In a recent exploration of the TikTok universe, Business Insider conducted a fascinating experiment, watching 1,000 TikToks in one sitting. The findings revealed a startling influx of advertisements, challenging the app’s claim that ads represent only a small portion of the content users see on their For You Page (FYP).

The TikTok Addiction

As the most addicted generation, Gen Z spends an average of 79 minutes a day on TikTok. Even adults over 18 in the US have seen a significant increase, jumping from 39 minutes a day in 2020 to 56 minutes by the end of this year.

The Shopping Trend of 2023

TikTok introduced an affiliate commission program, allowing creators to promote products on the platform. The recently unveiled TikTok shop became a hub for creators to link products in their videos, earning a cut for every sale generated through their links.

Ad Overload or Algorithm Magic?

Despite TikTok not disclosing how often ads are supposed to appear, users have complained about an overwhelming presence of ads on their FYP. Complaints range from ads dominating the FYP to appearing every few videos, sparking discussions about the impact on the overall user experience.

The Insider Experiment

Business Insider researchers, Hannah and Sebastian, embarked on a rigorous experiment, watching 500 TikToks each. They categorized the content into regular, affiliate, sponsored, traditional ads, self-promotion, and product reviews.

Pie chart showing Sebastian’s results — the smallest sliver is for “product reviews.” 

The Results

Hannah, a Black TikTok user, found that 36% of the content she viewed was related to a product, with explicit ads and reviews making up 31%. Sebastian, a queer content consumer, noticed that 29.2% of his content was advertisements, with skincare and self-care products dominating.

The TikTok Algorithm Mystery

With TikTok’s algorithm shrouded in secrecy, the researchers acknowledged the unknown impact of their actions on the algorithm during the experiment. Interactions, interests, and watch times all influence the content suggestions on users’ FYPs.

The Advertising Dilemma

As TikTok evolves into an e-commerce platform, the volume of ads is expected to increase. Data suggests that users are already influenced by TikTok, with approximately 37% making purchases based on discoveries within the app.

The Good, the Bad, and the Future

While TikTok has empowered small businesses and provided success stories, concerns about over-consumerism and environmental impact arise. The platform’s role in helping users find solutions to their problems is acknowledged, yet the potential consequences of increased buying are also evident.

In conclusion, TikTok’s influence on consumer culture is undeniably significant. As users, content creators, and businesses navigate this evolving landscape, the line between enjoyment and overconsumption becomes increasingly blurred. Whether TikTok is a force for good or a contributor to overconsumerism remains a subjective question, leaving users to ponder their newfound reliance on the app and its role in shaping their consumption habits.

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