top of page
  • Writer's pictureJason Burlin

TikTok Smart Ads Review

Updated: Sep 3, 2023

I initially started examining and writing about TikTok Smart Performance Campaigns a few months ago but decided to set it aside to allow for more thorough testing and analysis of this new ad format. Undoubtedly, automation has been the primary focus of advertising platforms over the past decade. If you’ve been involved in advertising during this time, you’ve likely noticed the significant progress these platforms have made in automating processes. Google introduced Performance Max, which combines all major campaign types on their platform (Search, Display, Shopping, and Videos) into a single automated campaign. This campaign takes control of ad delivery and optimization, although the transparency regarding how ads are delivered is lacking. Likewise, Facebook (Meta) launched Advantage+ shopping campaigns, which aim to automate ad delivery as well. In this format, you can import your best-performing ads or create multiple ads and let Meta decide which ones to show based on performance. While it offers less control over ad visibility, it theoretically delivers optimal performance by utilizing algorithmic machine learning for ad targeting.

If you’ve advertised on both TikTok and Facebook, you may have noticed that TikTok essentially copied the entire advertising platform from Facebook, both internally and externally. It was only a matter of time before TikTok developed its own version of the Advantage+ shopping campaign, which they call Smart Performance Campaigns. However, it’s worth noting that Facebook had previously copied TikTok’s Reels feature, indicating a scarcity of originality in the digital landscape. Now, let’s return to the topic of Smart Performance Campaigns. TikTok defines it as a new end-to-end automation campaign solution that maximizes delivery outcomes with less manual input required. According to TikTok, their system generates multiple creatives and bids for auctions, leading to stronger campaign performance when you select Smart Performance Campaign on the Campaign page of your TikTok Ads Manager. Feeling confused? You’re not alone. TikTok’s definition doesn’t provide much clarity. Smart performance campaigns are available for conversion and app promotion campaigns, and the option becomes accessible during the campaign creation process.

Once you choose this option, the primary difference lies in how you create your actual campaign.

With smart performance ads, you can upload all your creatives at once, saving time compared to creating them one by one. This streamlined process is the main advantage of this format. Additionally, you can include your Spark ads, which are posts from your TikTok profile. In addition to that, you can upload various text variations, customize the call to action, and incorporate other elements that may not significantly impact performance. In theory, TikTok will generate different variations using your uploaded posts or videos and ad captions to create the most effective combinations and deliver optimal performance. If my tone seems a bit sarcastic, it’s because I am.

Whenever TikTok introduces a new ad format that resembles Facebook’s, I can’t help but anticipate it to perform worse. Another aspect that perplexes me is the absence of the option to provide multiple URLs for different videos or images. While you can upload various ad creatives, you’re limited to using just one URL. This limitation is a deal-breaker in my opinion. It encourages me to upload my creatives using standard campaigns because not having control over the URL for each specific video or image is not smart—it’s actually counterproductive.

Now, let’s move on to examining the results of your published campaigns. Unfortunately, you encounter a notification that prevents you from viewing the actual outcomes, unlike with your other ads which is a little annoying.

Once you navigate your way and access the actual data, here’s what it looks like:

The smart campaign performance dashboard offers a comprehensive and accessible presentation of data, providing more specific information compared to Google’s performance max. It enables you to understand the targeted audience, identify top-performing creatives, and track impressions.

While TikTok’s platform may not provide extensive insights into ad display based on specific searches, valuable insights can still be gained. The advantages of using smart performance campaigns are numerous. You can upload up to 30 different creatives and various variations within a single campaign, saving time and effort. TikTok claims that this setup enhances ad delivery efficiency and leads to better results compared to standard campaigns. However, it’s important to consider that if you’re running multiple campaigns, you’ll need to analyze the performance of smart campaigns separately. This means if you typically analyze your regular campaigns together and use main KPIs to evaluate them collectively, you’ll need to evaluate smart performance campaigns individually. There are other aspects of smart performance campaigns that TikTok may not openly disclose. Firstly, a significant portion of ad targeting focuses on retargeted users or those who have engaged with your business previously. These campaigns prioritize targeting users already familiar with your brand and seek the easiest conversion opportunities. As a result, the conversions claimed by TikTok may have occurred even without the smart campaign, limiting your control over targeting new users who haven’t interacted with your business before. Secondly, smart campaigns are favored over your other campaigns and receive priority in ad delivery. It’s a common misconception among users that all ads have an equal chance of performing well.

However, the reality is that there’s a limited number of ideal ad opportunities for every business. For instance, while you may be able to generate 1000 new customers through TikTok every day, only a handful would be viable to target within your budget. Other potential customers may be too expensive to target or may make purchases in small quantities, making it inefficient to show them all ads. TikTok considers all your campaigns and determines which ad is most likely to perform best. When an ideal user logs into TikTok and starts browsing, the smart performance campaign is likely to be the first ad they see. There are two reasons behind this: Firstly, TikTok has its own agenda of promoting new ad formats by prioritizing their delivery. Secondly, campaigns with more ad variations are preferred by the delivery algorithm, as a greater number of options allows the computer to predict a better match. While smart campaigns may be prioritized for delivery, it doesn’t guarantee consistent out performance of your regular ads. They simply have an advantage in being among the first to be shown. You might wonder why your standard ads could potentially perform better than smart campaigns, despite the latter having more variations and a higher likelihood of optimal performance. I am not disputing that fact. However, smart performance campaigns do have limitations. For instance, you cannot choose the gender or exact age of the audience as TikTok claims that the most receptive audience for your business will be automatically targeted. Additionally, you have limited control over certain elements, such as choosing individual URLs for each creative, which can restrict the performance of your ads if they all lead to the same destination. In summary, TikTok’s Smart Performance Campaigns offer automation and convenience with the ability to upload multiple creatives at once and include Spark ads. However, limitations such as the lack of control over individual URLs and the prioritization of retargeted users raise concerns. The performance dashboard provides valuable data, although analyzing smart campaigns separately is necessary if you run multiple campaigns. While smart campaigns may receive priority in ad delivery, it doesn’t guarantee superior performance compared to regular ads. Understanding these nuances can help you make informed decisions when utilizing TikTok’s ad formats.

  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Whatsapp

Jason Burlin

A seasoned marketer with more than a decade of experience in online paid advertising. Managed more than $150M in ad spend and worked with more than 500+ brands. He is known as the unconventional marketer.

More On Jason Burlin



bottom of page