• Sustainability
  • DE&I
  • Pandemic
  • Finance
  • Legal
  • Technology
  • Regulatory
  • Global
  • Pricing
  • Strategy
  • R&D/Clinical Trials
  • Opinion
  • Executive Roundtable
  • Sales & Marketing
  • Executive Profiles
  • Leadership
  • Market Access
  • Patient Engagement
  • Supply Chain
  • Industry Trends

A Brand Game-Changer? TikTok and Pharma Marketing

Pharmaceutical ExecutivePharmaceutical Executive: April 2023
Volume 43
Issue 4

It’s time for pharma brands to recognize the potential of TikTok as a promotional platform and develop a strategy to not only stand out but make an impact.

Amy Houck

Amy Houck

In the age of digital dominance, social media platforms have become a go-to for healthcare brands to disseminate content to patients and physicians. Among these platforms, TikTok continues to be utilized the least. Pharmaceutical marketing executives have recognized the potential of TikTok as a promotional platform, but brands remain slow to adopt a TikTok marketing strategy. The truth is, in a world where brands are competing for attention, TikTok provides a unique opportunity for pharma brands to stand out and make an impact. Pharma marketing executives need to recognize the social strategy that worked back in 2021 won’t work in 2023.

Let’s explore how TikTok is revolutionizing brand recall and discuss the platform’s demographics and statistics, highlighting its value in reaching both patients and physicians.

Launched in 2016, TikTok has become one of the fastest-growing social media platforms. Although it remains a fact that a significant proportion of TikTok’s users are under the age of 30, the platform’s relevance for pharma companies extends beyond this demographic. 2023 data from Adweek1 suggests that the user base is aging up, which means that TikTok is not just a social media platform for Gen Z. It’s time to shatter the myth that TikTok is only for younger generations.

As a data-driven strategic marketer, I am always interested in letting the numbers speak for themselves. In the US alone, there are approximately 138 million active TikTok users, according to 2023 Statista data.2

The gender split is 60% female and 40% male; and on average, users open the app eight times per day.2

Let’s challenge some stereotypes. Despite the common perception that TikTok is primarily used by Gen Z, here is a closer look at its user base, according to 2022 Statista statistics:3

  • 7% of users are over 50, about 9.6 million individuals.
  • 14% are between 40-49, about 19 million individuals.
  • 17% are between 30-39, about 23 million individuals.
  • 62% are between 18-29, about 85 million individuals.

Next time someone tries to dismiss the platform as irrelevant for “our older target population,” hit them with these numbers from Statista: a staggering nine million TikTok users are over the age of 50, and a whopping 19 million are over the age of 40.3

TikTok’s reach to patients and physicians

TikTok provides an opportunity for pharma companies to connect with patients and physicians in various ways. One effective approach is through unbranded disease education content, using popular audio and hashtag trends to create videos that inform patients about various health conditions.

It’s important to note that TikTok users are highly engaged, spending an impressive average of 95 minutes per day on the app, according to Sensor Tower.4 This indicates a preference for longer videos, which generate higher engagement and views. As a result, brands are producing more long-form content, such as vlog-style and storytelling videos, to establish a deeper connection with their target audience.

In addition to unbranded educational content, TikTok also provides an effective way for pharma companies to promote their branded products to physicians. It’s worth noting that 68% of TikTok users—per the platform’s statistics—find advertising content on the platform unique or different from any other platform.5

Physicians are actively using TikTok, as evidenced by the numerous hashtags related to various medical specialties, such as #oncologist, #ophthalmologist, and #cardiologist. By leveraging trends, pharma companies can also easily identify digital opinion leaders and engage them in brand influencer campaigns to propel brand narrative even further.

The exponential growth and engagement potential of TikTok in the pharma industry is exemplified by this in-house example. With a modest test budget of $1,000, a single healthcare patient product video featuring real people (not animation) garnered more than 221,000 video views in just nine days. The impressive viewership translated to a total watch time of 189 hours as well as 1,029 new followers and 1,362 website visits, highlighting the significant impact that TikTok can have on brand awareness and engagement. This is a testament to the power of the platform and underscores the potential it holds for pharma brands looking to expand their reach and connect with new audiences.

TikTok Ads and compliance

When it comes to TikTok ads, there are different types to consider. The “Spark Ad” must be posted organically and tied to a completed TikTok profile. While it can appear organically to users in their TikTok feeds, it will look different when it appears as an ad, with a call to action (CTA) button, link, and “sponsored” call-out. Only clicking the CTA button will take users to the landing page.

On the other hand, the “Non-Spark Ad” will only appear to users as a paid ad with a CTA button and a “sponsored” callout. The client doesn’t need to choose a profile picture but should. Clicking the username, caption, CTA button, or profile picture or swiping left will take the viewer to the landing page. It’s important to consider the type of ad that works best for your needs and objectives.

Ensuring compliance for pharmaceutical ads can be a challenge, but TikTok provides a solution much like Instagram’s “See Prescribing Information.” The platform offers an “Add a disclaimer” link that opens within its built-in browser. The disclaimer can link to text on a website or to a PDF hosted on a website. With TikTok’s user-friendly compliance tools, pharma ads can be both effective and compliant.

We often receive questions about TikTok. Here are a couple TikTok FAQs that may be helpful:

Can comments be turned off? Yes, comments can be turned off when posting a video or setting up an ad.

Can links be used in captions? Unfortunately, no. Like Instagram, the only place a link works on TikTok is in the profile. Profiles can have one link in the bio once they reach 1,000 followers, and each ad can have one link included in the CTA. Captions are limited to 150 characters, including hashtags, and comments also have the same character limit.

When it comes to video specs, TikTok videos use the same specs as Instagram Reels and YouTube shorts, with a 9:16 aspect ratio or 1080x1920 pixels.

Best practices for pharma companies

Pharma organizations have a lot to gain by using TikTok as a promotional platform, but it’s important to adhere to best practices. To be successful on TikTok, it’s crucial to create content that is both informative and entertaining, as users are looking for engaging content that resonates with them. Animated content is not as effective as real-world video content, as users want the content to feel relatable.

The primary goal of social media is to foster meaningful engagement with the audience. Thus, it’s important to attempt to keep comments on. By genuinely addressing comments and messages received, pharma companies can establish a loyal following and develop a strong brand identity that resonates with their target demographic. To compliantly achieve this, it’s recommended to have a robust community management process and response protocol in place, which should maintain a human tone of voice. By engaging with users, pharma companies can increase brand awareness and establish themselves as thought leaders in the industry.

TikTok represents a potent platform that has the potential to revolutionize the way pharma companies promote their products and reach out to patients and physicians alike. With its expansive and diverse user base, coupled with an immersive and interactive format, it presents an unparalleled opportunity to connect with audiences and transform brand recall.


  1. Nover, S. TikTok Is Growing Up, and So Are Its Users. Adweek. May 20, 2020, https://www.adweek.com/performance-marketing/tiktok-is-growing-up-and-so-are-its-users/
  2. Distribution of TikTok Users Worldwide as of January 2023, By Gender. 2023. Statista. February 6, 2023, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1299785/distribution-tiktok-users-gender
  3. TikTok - Statistics & Facts. Statista. November 23, 2023, https://www.statista.com/topics/6077/tiktok/#topicOverview.
  4. Nearly One-Third of TikTok’s Installed Base Uses the App Every Day. Sensor Tower. July 2022, https://sensortower.com/blog/tiktok-power-user-curve
  5. Nielsen Study Shows TikTok Ideal Place for “Discovery,” Content More
  6. “Authentic.” TikTok, https://www.tiktok.com/business/en-US/blog/nielsen-study-tiktok-discovery-content-authentic
Related Videos
Related Content