As Older TikTok Creators Flourish, Brands Are Signing Them Up

In one of Jenny Krupa’s TikTok videos, her neighbor has been hurt. Ms. Krupa’s concern? She wants to see “if the paramedics are hot.” In another video, she lets a man who ghosted her know she’s TikTok famous — and he “really screwed up.”

A goofy scenario in yet another — involving a spat with her best friend and an “arrest” — turns out to be a sponsored post for the Paramount Pictures movie “80 for Brady.” Ms. Krupa, an influencer on TikTok, has a partnership with the studio. But she is not your typical social media personality. She’s 91, lives in a retirement home and has collected two million followers (helped by her grandson Skylar Krupa, 23, who creates her videos with her).

While Ms. Krupa, a Canadian who lives in Alberta and is known as J-Dog to her fans, is in rarefied company with such a large following, she is not the only older creator making ads on TikTok. Companies selling clothing, beauty products and more are discovering other retirement-age content creators they want to work with.

TikTok is gaining traction with older users, so brands are following them there, said Mae Karwowski, founder of Obviously, an influencer marketing agency that connects companies with content creators. Her agency works with Amazon and others to find TikTok influencers over 55.

These creators have been finding success by sharing life lessons and fashion tips, cooking, interacting with grandchildren or just being funny — while also promoting products.

“Older influencers have popped in popularity recently,” Ms. Karwowski said. Over the past year to 18 months, she added, “it’s really been accelerating‌.”

For the vast majority of influencers, the income from these gigs may not be enough to retire on, but it can help give their later-year finances a boost and even give them extra money to invest.

Gym Tan, 62, of San Francisco, who previously worked as president of DKNY Jeans International and more recently as a consultant, had been struggling to find an executive position in the fashion industry. About 18 months ago, her daughter, Mya Miller, 23, suggested that Ms. Tan share her outfit of the day — O.O.T.D. in social media parlance — on TikTok to connect with the fashion industry in a different way.

Dressing in simple, stylish, ageless clothing from both legacy and emerging brands, Ms. Tan amassed 10,000 followers in three months. After six months, companies came calling. Now she has more than 200,000 TikTok followers, a talent agent and a modeling career off the platform, appearing in a recent global ad campaign for Clairol.

The work is lucrative, Ms. Tan said, and she isn’t planning to stop anytime soon.

“I was definitely not fully set up financially for retirement,” she said. Besides saving for her later years, Ms. Tan said, she is paying a mortgage and college tuition for a younger child.

Ms. Tan’s success is more the exception than the rule. Still, there are opportunities for older brand representatives because there are fewer creators in that age category to compete with, said Kevin Creusy, a co-chief executive of Upfluence, which manages a repository of 4.5 million social media creators that advertisers can comb to find partners. As of mid-April, the listing had only about 2,700 entries for people 60 or older, he said, and just 174 of those had a TikTok account. The group is also overwhelmingly female and white, he said, “an indicator that other groups may be underrepresented overall.”

Brands often look for creators with as few as 5,000 followers because those so-called nano-influencers are more likely to engage ‌with people in their comment sections, giving the account an authentic feel, Mr. Creusy said. Those accounts can also be an inexpensive marketing vehicle as creators sometimes feature a product just because they received a free sample. About half of partnerships formed on Upfluence offer free products as compensation, but no pay.

Creators who are paid can make anything from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands to produce content advertising a brand. Pay rates depend on several factors: how much effort is involved in creating the post, how many times it will be posted and on which platforms, if the imagery can be used elsewhere by the company, and how many followers the creator has.

For the vast majority though, regardless of the creator’s age, the income isn’t enough to live on. The average payment for a sponsored post on Upfluence is $348, an increase of 44 percent over the average payment in the last quarter of 2022, Mr. Creusy said.

The money Ms. Krupa has earned for her handful of sponsored videos covers only “fun” items like plants, lottery tickets and clothes, according to her grandson, who manages her TikTok account. Ms. Krupa declined to be interviewed.

TikTok is the easiest platform for older people to build audiences, Mr. Creusy said, because users’ feeds surface content based on what they might be interested in and accounts similar to those they have viewed, rather than just from accounts they follow.

“It removed a barrier between creators and viewers,” Mr. Creusy said.

A teenager might not think about following someone who looks very different from themselves, he said, but they may be shown a video they like and start following that creator. “It’s about the content, not the person,” he said.

That’s what Lynn Yamada Davis, 66, of Holmdel, N.J., found. She began creating Cooking With Lynja videos to help her son, a videographer, keep up his cinematography skills during the pandemic lockdown in 2020. Within six months, about one million people‌ were following her quirky content, and her first sponsor contacted her.

“We got sent a free air fryer,” Ms. Yamada Davis said‌‌. “We were so excited!”

She and her son contacted brands they wanted to work with, and a few responded.

“We were thrilled when we got paid $5,000 to do a video,” said Ms. Yamada Davis, who receives retirement income from a pension and Social Security, and shares her TikTok revenue with her son.

Now, with more than 15 million followers and an agent who negotiates for her, Ms. Yamada Davis said she and her son had been paid as much as $50,000 to create one video.

“I was such a nerd all my life,” said Ms. Yamada Davis, a retired software engineer. “Now sometimes I get recognized when I’m at a Starbucks.”

There are potential pitfalls for creators trying to build a product promotion business. Scammers may pose as brand representatives asking the creator to pay to ship a sample, or ask for their personal information, said Margaret Bourne, who coaches creators. She said frauds often include effusive, unprofessionally worded or misspelled messages and usually come from an unknown brand or company.

Creators also need to balance sponsored content and their own because users don’t want to tune in to a stream of commercials, said Lisa Pedace, 59, a comedian and an actor in San Diego who started ‌‌making content during the pandemic as a creative outlet and a way to connect with an audience. She now has more than 750,000 followers. Ms. Pedace has been hired by a variety of brands, including Amazon Prime and Valentino.

“When a brand approaches me, I think about if I can work it into a comedic skit because that is what people expect,” she said.

In a video for Pair Eyewear, a magnetic eyeglasses base frame that comes with a variety of top frame styles, Ms. Pedace swapped on different frames to play different characters.

Ms. Pedace said she wasn’t planning on retiring soon but was putting her growing TikTok income into savings. “The money is good and keeps getting better,” she said.

With its growth continuing, TikTok is likely to keep adding older users, and attracting the sponsored posts that target them.

“It’s boom time to be an elder content creator,” Ms. Karwowski said.

Tips for TikTok Influencing at Any Age

  • Find your video niche. Do viewers enjoy your wisdom, your humor, the way you interact with your Gen Z grandchild? Home in on what’s working and post your account bio on influencer networks like Obviously, TikTok Creator Marketplace, the Amazon influencer program, Upfluence, Collectively and Julius.

  • Build your presence by befriending other creators of all ages to help you tap into TikTok communities and trends. Comment on one another’s videos, collaborate, stitch, duet or post together to introduce your audiences to each other.

  • Attract sponsors by posting about products you love and tagging the company name. Brands keeping an eye out for fans may contact you. You can also email or message a brand and offer to be an ambassador. Mention your age and any other attributes that might help you stand out.

  • If you land a partnership, make sure your first one, whether you are receiving a free product or money, is well executed with clear messages and compelling visuals. Companies will review prior sponsored content when they evaluate you.

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