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We Watched 1,000 TikToks; Nearly a Third Were Ads



We Watched 1,000 TikToks; Nearly a Third Were Ads

  • TikTok has introduced affiliate content and direct links to TikTok Shop all over the app. 
  • We watched 1,000 TikToks to see if we could observe any advertising patterns in our For You Pages.
  • The results? On TikTok, about a third of the content we watched were ads — but it didn’t always feel that way.

People are consuming TikTok like no other social media platform.

The most addicted generation — the typical American Gen Z watcher — spends 79 minutes on the app a day. In the US, the number of minutes the typical adult over 18 spends on the social media app also continues to rise from nearly 39 minutes a day in 2020 to 56 minutes by the end of this year, Insider Intelligence forecasted.

In between the mindless scrolling through silly dog clips, aesthetic get ready with me videos, and the occasional mind-altering or absurdist Gen Z posts are a whole lot of products.

TikTok didn’t respond to a request for data on how frequently ads are supposed to appear on the site and how these ads are dispersed on the For You Page (FYP). However, a TikTok spokesperson told Insider ads are supposed to represent a small portion of the content people should see on their FYP.

TikTok drops the hottest shopping trend of 2023

Earlier this year, TikTok rolled out an affiliate commission program to allow creators to promote products on the recently unveiled TikTok shop.

Creators who participate link to products on their videos or slideshows. The links show up at the bottom left corner of the screen next to a shopping cart icon, and users can click on the link to be directed to that item on the TikTok shop.

Users who get people to purchase the product through their link make a cut, incentivizing users to post more affiliate links and speak highly of the products they’re linking out to.

Although it is unclear if this led to increased promotional content on the site, some people have definitely been complaining.

In one TikTok Insider found, a user complained that their FYP was all ads, displaying four videos in a row that were either regular advertisements or videos about products.

Other users have complained on the site that they are receiving ads “all over their FYP” or ads “every 6 videos.” Some users complain that TikTok Shop content has dominated their FYP.

Many users who did complain did not provide evidence of said ads on their FYP.

But even if something isn’t flagged as an ad on TikTok, either with an “eligible for commission” or a “sponsored” tag at the bottom left corner of the screen, users can still be inundated with content encouraging them to buy something. For example, creators can show us items for product reviews or promote their businesses through their pages.

Here at Insider, two Gen Z colleagues decided to take on the laborious task of watching 500 TikToks each to determine how much advertising we consume on the platform and what that means for our consumer-centric culture (and our sanity).

Our methodology

This experiment was conducted over a nearly three-hour timespan on a Saturday night. It involved two reporters: Hannah, who lives in Southern California, and Sebastian, who lives in Northern California.

This was a rigorous science experiment, so of course, we tracked our results on a Google spreadsheet that we put together in 20 minutes.

We focused solely on TikTok videos and slideshows and excluded TikTok stories and TikTok livestreams — even streams that were explicitly there to sell products, like QVC.

The five categories of content that we tracked were:

  • Regular Content: This is your average TikTok cooking tutorial or Get Ready With Me. No one is explicitly showing you a product.

  • Affiliate Content: This is content that creators make to receive a commission on TikTok.

  • Sponsored Content: Also called a paid partnership on TikTok. A company pays a creator to talk about their product.

  • Traditional Ads: These are regular ads that businesses pay TikTok to display.

  • Self-promoting of a business or product: A company or individual using their platform to promote products or services, but it isn’t marked as an ad.

  • Product Reviews: These aren’t intended to advertise, but the creators still display products and speak positively or negatively about them.

Because there isn’t much data on the TikTok algorithm (the company is notoriously secretive about how it works exactly), precisely how our actions influenced the algorithm — or if there was any effect in real time — was a complete mystery.

However, we did know some general factors about how the FYP decides to feed us content.

Following certain accounts, liking posts, and even hovering over videos that pertain to a topic of interest aid the algorithm in deciding what to show you next — this includes videos with TikTok shop links, according to a TikTok spokesperson. The more you interact with shoppable content, the more the algorithm gives you said content.

We were also aware that our content suggestions would be different based on our individual interests, watch times, locations, and interactions with the app.

With all this in mind, we grabbed our water bottles, silenced our Slack notifications, and leaped into the TikTok abyss.

Hannah’s observations

My name is Hannah, and I indulge in many different subgenres on TikTok — travel content, hair and beauty content, home lifestyle content, and social justice content — but broadly speaking, I’m on the Black side of TikTok.

And my FYP knows me well… maybe too well.

Throughout this tiresome experiment (my thumbs are still recovering), I became hyper-aware that TikTok at least vaguely understood that I would be interested in the same advertising content.

For example, I received so many advertisements for wigs. Although I don’t wear wigs, it was clear that the algorithm believed that I was a Black woman or knew that I was interested in content that involved Black women.

It took me two hours to finish watching 500 TikToks; just over 64% of the content I saw was regular content, meaning the remaining 36% was related to a product of some kind — whether it was an explicit ad or a review.

I often seek out advice for products on TikTok, so I wasn’t surprised that 5% of the content I saw was from people who reviewed products, often “CleanTok” products — items popularized by content creators who feature themselves cleaning and sanitizing their homes.

That means 31% of the content I saw was some sort of explicit advertisement. Only one ad I saw was not intended to sell a product — it was a promotion for the Trevor Project.

A pie chart with Hannah's results

Hannah’s results


Sometimes, these videos were stacked, meaning I would see an affiliate ad on top of a traditional ad, or a traditional ad on top of a business promoting itself.

The longest break I had between product-related content was nine videos, although that wasn’t common.

However, the percentage of ads appeared typical of a network TV program, which can consist of up to 17 minutes of ads an hour — or about 28% of programming. The key difference is that you scroll past a TikTok ad.

Sebastian’s Experience

My name is Sebastian, and I’m a queer 22-year-old living in the Bay Area. I like watching horror movies, reading, overelaborate skincare routines, and spending too much time trying out advanced crafts that I’ve never attempted, with often poor results.

I lay all these things about myself out so that you, too, can be horrified about how well my TikTok page seems to know me despite my pride in maintaining a mysterious online front.

Even as a Gen Z, my content-consuming capabilities were truly tested by watching 500 TikToks in a row. It was the modern-day equivalent of when my ancestors had to spend all day outside hunting for food or whatever.

Predictably, my content was a well-tailored mix of niche movie suggestions, queer theory discourse, and lots and lots of crocheting advice. Nothing out of the ordinary for a jaunt onto my For You Page.

Once I started noticing the ads, though, I couldn’t stop. Before starting my “research,” I was annoyed with how many ads I saw, but I wouldn’t say I considered them truly obstructive to my content-viewing experience. Once I started paying attention, though, I realized I saw an ad after every two or three regular TikToks.

Pie chart showing Sebastian's results — the smallest sliver is for "product reviews."

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


Some ads seemed random, but lots weren’t — I saw a lot of advertisements for skincare and self-care products, and some sites advertising used books and literary merchandise.

I did see ads for things I’m uninterested in, too, like an incredible number of ads for Macy’s, which is apparently still kicking. I also saw at least 10 ads for the new Disney movie “Wish,” which has a script that seems like it was produced in the middle of a writer’s strike.

After several Sisyphean hours, during which I questioned my commitment to my craft, I saw 360 regular TikToks and 140 ads, most of which were traditional-style or influencer-sponsored content.

That breaks down to 71.8% regular TikToks and 29.2% advertisements in the content I consumed.

‘It’s helping people find things that they need’

The main thing we took out of our experiment is the astounding amount of products advertised to us daily, often without us fully comprehending their influence. Even the most conscientious of us have probably bought something they would have had no idea about if they weren’t on social media.

Kristen Schiele, a USC Marshall School of Business professor, told Insider we could see an increased ad volume since advertisers push more ad content around the holiday season.

According to Schiele, some 200 million hours of video are streamed daily using TikTok, making its impact enormous.

“People are spending more time on TikTok. You’re going to see more ads because people are spending more time there,” Schiele said. “Advertisers are willing to pay more because that’s where their audience is.”

It’s unclear whether or not there are more product promotions on TikTok than there used to be (although it sure feels like it), but one thing is clear — there is no escaping advertising in this world.

Streaming services are introducing more ads in their movies and shows this year. Previous reports say cable networks insert more advertising into their programming. And on other social media sites like Instagram, users have also complained about increased advertisements.

Depending on how long we spend plugged into our devices, we could absorb more “influence” than we think. According to data cited by TikTok, about 37% of users have purchased something they discovered on the platform. And, with the platform’s lofty aspirations to beat out Amazon as an e-commerce behemoth, users might not even have to leave the app to make those purchases.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Beyond the crushing doom of AI taking over our society, we suppose it depends on your point of view.

TikTok and other social media platforms can, in some instances, democratize viral moments and allow small businesses to thrive. So far, over 200,000 businesses use TikTok Shop to sell their products, per a TikTok spokesperson.

The platform has resulted in a fair share of success stories, a TikTok spokesperson told Insider. One example is Soo Slick, a shapewear brand founded by Nigerian immigrant Elizabeth Adeoye.

Adeoye told Insider that she’s been able to generate $1 million in monthly sales through the platform and affiliate program since she began posting her products earlier this year.

Adeoye said before joining the platform, she spent thousands on buying ads, conducting market research, and paying influencers to promote products. All of those costs disappeared once she joined TikTok shop.

She also said that the platform has helped her better serve her customers. For example, her followers help her decide what designs to sell next.

“TikTok has all around supporting Black small businesses,” Adeoye said. “They’ve been really, really, really supportive when it comes to my exposure, brand exposure, and giving us credit for advertisements and stuff like that. They’ve just definitely been a huge part of my success so far.”

And it seems like more and more, the platform is becoming a place where people want to find products. Last year, Google data showed that Gen Z is increasingly turning to the app to search for what they want online.

Schiele added that some people may even like the ads, especially if it helps them solve a “problem.”

“Whatever it is that I’m searching for, if it’s able to tailor ads, it could help me solve my problem,” Schiele said. “In a way, it’s helping people find things that they need.”

But, if we’re trying to combat over-consumerism, more buying drives us further from reaching climate goals and creates a ton of waste — which, perhaps, isn’t good.

Either way, this experiment should give you something to consider. And potentially something to blame for your new reliance on Temu.

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Who is HRH Collection founder and YouTuber, Alexandra Peirce?



Who is HRH Collection founder and YouTuber, Alexandra Peirce?

ALEXANDRA Peirce proves there’s no such thing as bad publicity, garnering more fans and subscribers every time she posts one of her infamous video rants.

Peirce, known better by her social media pseudonym HRH Collection, has been an internet mainstay for years, and her fame only continues to grow after sharing more of her contentious takes online.


HRH Collection founder and YouTuber, Alexandra Peirce, poses for a photo on her Instagram showcasing pieces from her jewelry lineCredit: Instagram/ therealhrhcollection

Who is Alexandra Peirce?

Alexandra Peirce is a social media personality, influencer, and jewelry designer.

Peirce was born on May 13, 1984, in the US.

She currently resides near Los Angeles, California.

Before launching her famous YouTube channel, Peirce graduated from college in 2007 with a degree in political science.

In 2009, she earned a master’s degree in international business.

While in graduate school, Peirce studied abroad in Shanghai, China, where she says she “fell in love with all things Asian.”

Peirce returned to the US during the peak of the 2008 economic recession, forcing her to move in with her parents.

Despite applying for countless jobs, she couldn’t land a position, leading her to create her YouTube channel.

Peirce post her first video, a “What’s in my bag” vlog where she walked viewers through everyday items she carried in her purse.

Peirce kept the channel going even after landing a job in accounting, posting videos and designing jewelry pieces during lunch breaks and after hours.

Fueled by her growing subscriber count, her design hobby would eventually turn into a full-fledged company, HRH Collection.

While Peirce now runs her jewelry line full-time, she is even better known on the internet for her viral videos, which typically show Peirce sitting in her car, ranting about anything from current events and pop culture trends to hairstyles and holidays.

Her videos are often cut up and reposted on TikTok, where select sound clips go viral.

Some of Peirce’s most well-known tirades include her take on beachy waves – “it’s not the vibe, stop!” – and her controversial views on Women’s Day – ““I think it’s stupid. I really do.”

Nevertheless, Peirce has amassed a legion of hardcore fans and haters who can’t help but watch her scream and shout her opinion on just about everything.

Peirce’s controversial videos (and views) have been compared to other un-cancellable influencers, like Trisha Paytas and Theo Von.

Who else could get away with yelling: “Shut up! Stop being fat! Stop being ugly!” at her viewers, who keep coming back for more?

It seems like no matter what she posts, or how many people disagree with her, viewers can’t help but leave her videos wanting more.

One TikTok user commented: “This woman is actually problematic but my brain is itched by the way she complains because it’s exactly how I think when I’m annoyed.”

Despite – or maybe because of – the controversies, Peirce has continued to grow her social media following.

Her Instagram account boasts 118,000 followers, despite several of her past accounts being banned or deleted.

Peirce’s X account is currently suspended, but that hasn’t stopped the internet icon from sharing her views online.

Her YouTube channel, which hosts over 600 videos, has 449,000 subscribers.

The hashtag #hrhcollection has also garnered nearly 1 billion views on TikTok, from reposted videos to sound bites.

Peirce has also garnered fame via interviews with BuzzFeed News and Interview Magazine, and appeared on podcasts like The Spillover With Alex Clark.

What is HRH Collection?

HRH Collection is a jewelry line created by Alexandra Peirce.

Besides rings, earrings, necklaces, and bracelets, the website also sells bag chains, keychains, ankle socks, t-shirts, and a windbreaker.

On the company’s about page, Peirce explains that the e-commerce site “started as a hobby and has now grown into a company that I’m so proud to call my own.”

Peirce first designed “a Japanese style frosting cupcake ring and key fob,” sharing the pieces on her YouTube channel.

Viewers were interested in purchasing the items, leading Peirce to create La Lumiere, mixing chain metals with assorted crystals to create bracelets and necklaces.

Peirce wore her jewelry to work and showcased her pieces on her social media, leading to steady stream of customers and orders.

From there, Peirce launched an Etsy shop, juggling her full time job alongside designing new pieces and fulfilling online orders.

Peirce states that she is “so thankful” for everyone who helped her along the way, but also offers some practical advice for anyone who hopes to turn their hobby into a viable career, saying she was “strategic” in developing HRH.

She writes: “Many of you guys ask me if you should quit your jobs to pursue YouTube or your other hobbies.”

“To be completely honest, I do not think you should quit your job for any hobby, until you have grown your company into one that can reasonably replace your job – this is very important.”

HRH collection features hundreds of items, with most priced between $50 and $150.

Shoppers can also select items from “Alex’s Musts,” which includes products like a $190 sterling silver tennis necklace, a trio of mixed metal rings for $87, and $59 diet soda hoops, resembling soda can tops.

Consumers looking for unique pieces are in luck, as there is a limited amount of inventory available per item, with many pieces already sold out.

Alexandra Peirce poses with her husband, Jason Locke, and her dog, Ming, for a photo on Instagram


Alexandra Peirce poses with her husband, Jason Locke, and her dog, Ming, for a photo on InstagramCredit: Instagram/ therealhrhcollection

Is Alexandra Peirce married?

Peirce came under fire from both her fans and haters after getting married on June 16, 2023, to her second husband, Jason Locke.

The influencer was mocked for her dress, venue, food, and overall wedding aesthetic.

She was also trolled on social media for live-streaming the event, charging users $25 to watch the party.

Peirce chose to wear a short, white, recycled Zara dress for the reception, while the groom chose to don a camouflaged Trump/Pence hat.

After a small ceremony at Bethania Lutheran Church, a reception was held in the parking lot of the Hitching Post, a BBQ joint in Buellton, California.

The eatery’s website says it is known for its wines and West Coast barbecue, and guests dined on veggies, garlic bread, and quesadillas, among other items.

Decorations were minimal, with few flowers adorning the white tent erected in the parking lot.

Each table did come with a cherry-scented ashtray candle, personalized with ‘Mr. & Mrs. Locke’ in a gothic font.

Peirce then changed into yoga pants before heading off to a local casino with her new beau and a few close friends, keeping the party going well into the morning hours.

Many users took to X to share their thoughts.

Some users called the wedding trashy, while others lamented the party’s seemingly low budget.

One user tweeted: “You had a trailer park wedding” along with a crying and skull emojis.

Another wrote: “how can hrh collection talk about anyone when her dress looks like it came out of a Zara clearance section?”

One influencer even branded the event as “the tackiest wedding ever.”

Peirce fought back, going after her online haters and critics in another one of her infamous video rants.

In a video titled Addressing The Devils, Peirce asks her viewers: “Do you think I didn’t know what my wedding was gonna be like? Like, I didn’t plan my wedding?”

“I don’t like big to-dos. I’m the least to-do person ever.”

She added: “B***h, I could fly to the f**king Maldives with every damn f**king person in my damn family and pay for everyone and not have it impact me at all, you f**king idiots.”

Peirce then stressed that her and Locke wanted to keep the wedding “casual and mellow.”

She said: “I did exactly what I wanted to do for my wedding and I would do it all exactly over again.”

Peirce ended the video by saying: “I’m happy, I’m in a really loving relationship. I basically have everything I want.”

“I have my own business, a beautiful house, I have a husband. I’m really happy right now and you guys are so vicious and mean.”

Then, in her signature fashion, she addressed her haters head-on, explaining: “I get it, because you’re miserable and ugly.”

“And you’re a loser, I understand. Life isn’t fair.”

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New Guide Highlights Key Considerations for Effective TikTok Ads



New Guide Highlights Key Considerations for Effective TikTok Ads

Looking to make TikTok a bigger focus of your marketing effort in 2024?

This will help. TikTok recently partnered with creator intelligence platform CreatorIQ to conduct an analysis of the key factors that make for a resonant TikTok promotion, culminating in a 26-page report which covers a range of key notes and tips for your planning.

You can download CreatorIQ’s full TikTok ads guide here, but in this post, we’ll look at some of the key notes.

The report is broken up into five key pillars of TikTok ads creation, which echo much of the best advice that’s been shared for the platform over time.

CreatorIQ’s five key TikTok marketing notes are:

  • Grab attention from the start
  • Foster a personal connection
  • Show your product in action
  • Use high-impact creative elements
  • Close with a clear call to action

For each of these elements, the guide digs deeper into how to enact them, and the critical considerations of each, including stats on effectiveness:

Tips on TikTok-specific trends and tools:

CreatorIQ TikTok Ads Report

As well as case study examples to underline each point:

CreatorIQ TikTok Ads Report

It’s a handy overview, with a range of valuable notes, though the main finding, above all of the creative pointers and advice, is that established creators perform better for TikTok promotions.

As per CreatorIQ:

The report found that creators overwhelmingly make the best-performing TikTok ads, with recommendations carrying more weight than traditional brand advertisements and celebrity spokespeople. In fact, after watching a creator-driven Spark Ad, 57% of TikTok community members say the creator is trustworthy, 56% say they can trust the brand because the creator shared it, and 71% say creator authenticity led them to buy a product.

So while there are a heap of practical notes and pointers for increasing the resonance of your in-app promotions – like this:

CreatorIQ TikTok Ads Report

The key point of emphasis is that creators make better TikToks, and thus, better ads, so partnering with relevant influencers in your niche is still likely a better way to go.

Some good considerations, and some valuable, data-backed tips, which could help to get your TikTok promotion plan on the right track in the new year.

You can download CreatorIQ’s full TikTok marketing report here.

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Adobe Highlights Rising Visual Trends in 2024 Creative Trends Report



Adobe Highlights Rising Visual Trends in 2024 Creative Trends Report

Looking for creative inspiration for your 2024 strategic planning?

This will help. Today, Adobe has published its annual Creative Trends Report, which incorporates insights from Adobe’s 30 million+ Creative Cloud users, in order to determine rising visual styles of interest, which look set to resonate with audiences in the new year.

Based on its research, the Adobe team has established four creative trends that are worthy of note:

  • Calming Rhythms – Fluid and flowing forms that soothe the senses and support emotional balance
  • Wonder and Joy – Visuals that inspire a sense of awe, joy, and enchantment
  • Dynamic Dimensions – Where all dimensions and types of content seamlessly merge
  • The New Nostalgia – Contemporary interpretations of vintage styles

Adobe’s 22-page report, which you can download here (with email sign-up), provides more insight into each of these trends, along with various examples, and data that explains why they’re set to gain more momentum.

There are handy notes and insights for each, which help to illustrate how to use them in your process.

Adobe 2024 Creative Trends Report

Interestingly, a lot of the images used by Adobe in the report look like they’ve been created by generative AI. I don’t know that they have, but it is worth noting the composition in this regard, as another potential means to tap into these trends.

Adobe 2024 Creative Trends Report

The report provides some interesting perspective on rising visual trends, which could help in your planning. Maybe one of these resonates especially well with your branding, or aligns with what your target audience has been sharing.

Either way, some additional, data-backed considerations, which could be helpful in your process.

You can download Adobe’s “2024 Creative Trends Report” here.

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