Self-Critical Companies, Capitalism, and TikTok

By: Sydney Joa, 11th Grade

Over the past couple of years, the TikTok app has soared in popularity among younger demographics, slowly developing into a global phenomenon. Major corporations and media outlets hopped on the TikTok bandwagon to increase their visibility among the younger user population, attempting to reach this new base of potential customers. This isn’t much of a surprise given that the app’s user base nearly doubled during the pandemic, but companies are just now starting to figure out the quirks and algorithms of this Gen Z hotspot.

A very interesting phenomenon that has come out of this is how these big corporations and their official TikTok brand accounts have this one person that’s supposedly running the account. In addition to this, the content they create is self-referential from the standpoint of this employee and it tends to be characterized by self-deprecating humor, in the sense that it showcases relatable content about job insecurity. Examples of this would be TikToks about how the employee is worried that the account isn’t performing as well as their boss may expect it to, how their manager is upset with them, or maybe even about how they’re “broke”. These videos usually go viral because viewers either find it relatable or want to simply help this person.

What makes it even more riveting is that the viral videos also provide company visibility and may even convince users to buy their products. The problem with this sort of strategy is that it humanizes exploitative and greedy corporations, detaching them from capitalist brand identities that they may be more known for. This is because they make it appear as if they understand employee grievances but to put it simply, it’s all a ruse. The phenomenon is an odd twist on class solidarity that in the end only benefits the corporation–they profit off of visibility while everyone else stays at the bottom.

The phenomenon showcases just how important social media has become when it comes to companies trying to reach a larger audience. Additionally, while it may seem as if there’s only one person running the account, bigger companies tend to have entire teams working on it as part of their meticulously-curated marketing scheme. They use a young and relatable employee as the face of the account so that the app’s young user base can empathize with them. 

As a cherry on top, we sometimes even see company accounts in the comment sections using Gen Z slang and humor and gaining thousands, and sometimes even millions, of likes from it. Words and phrases like “bestie” and “they understood the assignment”, and the ironic use of emojis, have users forgetting that some of these companies have certain questionable morals and ethics behind the screen. Meanwhile, brands are making the most out of the fact that they simply need to be humorous and irreverent to grow a following on the app.

A very illustrative example is @emilyzugay’s TikTok account. She went viral last month for redesigning big corporate brand logos and turning them into more sardonic versions of them. Since then, her comment sections have been flooded by brand accounts begging her to redesign their own logos.

This occurrence demonstrates that the entire capitalist system is too big to fail that corporations within it can afford to be self-critical of it without it changing anything. It really has me wondering just how many more strategies companies are going to create to divert our attention away from the underlying social and economic issues plaguing our societies, as well as how many people are going to continue falling for it.

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