Nick Tran is no longer TikTok’s global head of marketing, reportedly because the company was unimpressed with his “side-show” marketing campaigns, according to the New York Post. Some of the most notable “stunt-marketing” schemes he came up with included opening TikTok Kitchens, letting people apply to jobs at places like Chipotle or Target via TikToks, and an NFT collaboration with celebrities like Lil’ Nas X and Bella Poarch.
The Post reports that the restaurant campaign, where ghost kitchens would cook and deliver recipes that went viral on TikTok, was the one of the last straws for Tran. “We’re not in the restaurant business and we shouldn’t pretend to be,” one executive reportedly said. Looking at some of the campaigns, it is a bit difficult to find a connection to TikTok’s actual business of hosting short form videos, or how they work to boost its image (apart from possibly just getting people to talk about TikTok at all, though it’s not like there’s been a drought of TikTok news in the two-ish years that Tran worked there).
Not all of TikTok’s recent ads have been so tangentially related though. I genuinely enjoyed one of its “you have to see it” ads, which shows people (including Martha Stewart) talking about that series of TikToks where someone found an entire apartment behind their bathroom mirror.
Tran worked at Hulu before being poached by TikTok. According a 2020 profile in Fortune’s 40 under 40, he worked on a few strange ad campaigns there as well — he was involved with Hulu’s Super Bowl ad which used an egg to tell people to “talk to someone” if they were struggling with mental health, capitalizing off the egg picture that became the most-liked post on Instagram at the time. The ad doesn’t heavily feature Hulu branding, but the company made a big deal about sponsoring the egg in the run-up to the Super Bowl.
Tran also led an ad campaign called “Better ruins everything,” where a variety of celebrities tell you not to buy Hulu (it’s not quite like Patagonia telling you not to buy their jacket, the celebrities are warning you that Hulu is so much better than TV that you’ll never be able to go without it after you use it).
While Tran’s marketing stunts may have only vaguely related to TikTok, that’s not particularly abnormal for marketing these days — did seeing a baby version of Mr. Peanut make you hungry? Did seeing a heavy metal band growl-scream out an excerpt from one of The Verge’s reviews make you want to buy a Lenovo laptop? (Okay, that one was actually pretty awesome.) TikTok didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment from The Verge, but confirmed Tran’s departure in a statement to Ad Age (though, as a note, he does list Global Head of Marketing at TikTok as his current job on LinkedIn). TikTok’s statement wished him well in his future endeavors — whatever they end up being, we’ll probably hear about them.