TikTok: A Potential Breeding Ground for Excessive Consumerism?

You know when you go on TikTok intending to fill a mere 10 minutes of your time with fun content, and before you know it an hour or two of your time was wasted mindlessly scrolling into a black hole of never-ending content? If you are someone that regularly uses social media, especially TikTok, you must know the feeling all too well. There are a few explanations to explain why the app is able to have such a strong grasp on user screen time.

The Power of the Algorithm

The Chinese-owned app introduced a game-changing formula to the way we consume social media today. Truthfully, the concept of an endless “For You Page” is nothing new; A predecessor known as Vine had a similar format but shut down due to the lack of financial planning and failure to monetize on their part.

However, TikTok is the first to be able to pull off the format of an endless “For You Page”, where every single video appears based on the recommendations of your algorithm. The contents of a For You Page, or famously referred to as the FYP, may differ from one person to another. The majority of TikTok’s popularity and success can be attributed to the efficiency of this algorithm that keeps its users so entertained for hours and hours on end.

Instant and Secure Satisfaction

Another feature that also likely propelled the success of TikTok is how the content differs from other major social media such as Instagram or Twitter. TikTok can integrate more relatable and interactive content for less effort. For instance, a 280-character tweet or a selfie on Instagram does not bring the average user as much satisfaction as it would from short video clips filled with either music, comedy, or information.

For many users, TikTok can induce a feeling of escapism. Whereas other social media apps we are constantly interacting with people we know in real life, TikTok is a space where users can consume or post without the fear of it being viewed by people in their life. According to Forbes, John Lincoln, CEO of Ignite Visibility, believes that “What further propelled the growth of TikTok was the need for teenagers to get off Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat and have a place of their own where their parents couldn’t see what they were up to.”

The Marketing Potential for Businesses

A double-edged sword can also be said about the seamlessness and ease of sneaky advertising that is made possible by the app. For businesses, there are heaps of opportunities to create relatable content that can slyly advertise their product. TikTok allows for casual advertising, subtle enough to sell their products without it feeling like a marketing ploy. In comparison to blatant and more formal advertisements such as those found in other social media apps, brands can advertise by hiring TikTok content creators who know exactly how to cater to their target audience.

The Introduction of “Micro-Trends”

Surely, an app that sounds too good to be true does not come without its pitfalls. With its capability to allow for hours of continuous scrolling, there is always going to be something new on the app. New jokes, new memes, new trends, new viral things. The entire app is curated specifically to users’ interests and hobbies so that everyone is always in the loop on the new, “coolest” thing. This is especially applicable to markets such as beauty, fitness, fashion, food, and more. This pattern has brought a rise to cyclical “micro-trends”, are essentially seasonal trends that only last for a very short period of time, but are massively popular and accessible.

The power of “micro-trends” has been able to propel even more consumptive behavior from users by exploiting the psychological fear of missing out. A behavioral economics concept for this is known as ‘loss aversion’: “The psychological effects of experiencing a loss or even facing the possibility of a loss might even induce risk-taking behavior that could make realized losses even more likely or more severe.” (Liberto, 2021). Micro-trends that become popular overnight create a thought process in consumers that they will be missing out on something if they choose to opt out. The natural reaction of wanting to conform and be relatable to people around us is what truly drives this phenomenon. Especially in the age of digital saturation, missing out on something can foster a negative feeling of alienation for individuals.

Micro-trends that are consumptive can especially be observed in markets like fashion and beauty. Fast fashion has completely engulfed the general TikTok community. Chinese fast fashion companies like SHEIN and ROMWE have soared in popularity simultaneously since the TikTok boom. One site even described the e-commerce platform as being “a favorite of Gen-Z shoppers in the West by offering thousands of new styles a week at ultra-low prices”, and reported its value at an estimated $15 billion which puts it above US fast fashion retailers such as H&M and Zara (Peiyue, 2021). It’s the ability to mass-produce the newest, trendiest items (often stolen from other designers and brands) for a fraction of the price that really strikes their primarily Gen-Z audience. Unfortunately, the combination of the two creates a deadly loop: promote, produce, and repeat. Before we know it, secondhand and traditionally ‘vintage’ thrift stores are now chock-full of brand new, cheap, and unethically produced garments that have nowhere to go because any perceived social value they had had inevitably expired.

Ultimately, trends in any shape or form are one of the most unsustainable concepts in society. Trends, be it micro or seasonal, always imply that they will go out of style after a period of time. Blaming it on one single company or application is impractical and misdirected. At the end of the day, it is left up to the consumers to purchase consciously with the intent to reap all the efforts and resources put into the things they buy. Slow, incremental–but permanent–change is the only real way of progressing sustainably.

References

Liberto, D. (2021, May 19). Loss aversion definition. Investopedia. Retrieved October 15, 2021, from https://www.investopedia.com/terms/l/loss-psychology.asp.

Peiyue, W. (2021, September 23). The shady labor practices underpinning Shein’s Global Fashion Empire. Sixth Tone. Retrieved October 15, 2021, from https://www.sixthtone.com/news/1008472/the-shady-labor-practices-underpinning-sheins-global-fashion-empire.

Taulli, T. (2020, February 3). Tiktok: Why the enormous success? Forbes. Retrieved October 15, 2021, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/tomtaulli/2020/01/31/tiktok-why-the-enormous-success/?sh=46791cf365d1.

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