During the holiday season, it’s hard not to think about “A Christmas Carol,” Charles Dickens’ famous story about the curmudgeonly Ebenezer Scrooge, but high school honors English students are probably also familiar with his novel “A Tale of Two Cities.” In the social media sphere, the platform TikTok took 2020 by storm and saw users create viral video after viral video, fueled by copious amounts of quarantine boredom and stir-craziness. What’s the common denominator between all of these? It comes down to what I’m calling “A Tale of Two TikToks,” and how two prominent companies responded to viral TikTok videos; one leaned into the fame, and one was a complete Scrooge. Truly the best of times for one company, and the worst of times for the other.
When Nathan Apodaca’s truck broke down and was forced to ride his longboard to work, he happened to take a video of himself riding his board and quenching his thirst with a large bottle of Ocean Spray cranberry juice. He posted it to TikTok and underscored the video with Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” As the kids say, it was a vibe. In fact, it was such a vibe, the video went viral, and even caught the attention of Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood, with Fleetwood making his own version of the video. “Dreams” streamed #1 on Spotify for weeks. It wasn’t long before Ocean Spray caught wind and saw that their cranberry juice held a starring role in the video. When they learned that Apodaca’s reason for skateboarding was that his pickup stopped working, they took the opportunity to gift him a brand new truck. This led to a groundswell of good publicity for the company, thanks to the many fans Apodaca had earned since going viral, and led to a major sales increase ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday and a reported 15 billion media impressions.
On the other side of this “Tale of Two TikToks,” we have humble Sherwin-Williams sales associate Tony Piloseno, a college student whose generation has adopted Tik Tok and truly made it their own. Tony found a niche audience on TikTok by way of his job, where his paint mixing videos earned him over a million followers on the social media platform. Tony purchased the paint from his Sherwin-Williams store and created the videos on his own time, and when his videos caught on, he had an idea. The ambitious Tony created a presentation for his employer, demonstrating how Sherwin-Williams could capture the attention of the highly sought-after Gen Z, who will likely be the next generation buying paint and keeping businesses profitable over the coming decades. Unfortunately, Tony’s email to the marketing director of Sherwin-Williams went unanswered and his presentation was never looked at, but when the corporate team discovered his TikTok, Tony was promptly fired, claiming he used company property and “grossly embarrassed” the painting brand. Buzzfeed News released an article detailing the circumstances of his firing, and word immediately spread online across Twitter and TikTok itself. Needless to say, it was a bad look for Sherwin-Williams.
It didn’t take long for people to connect these two events in light of what took place with Sherwin-Williams. “Firing the Sherwin Williams guy is like Ocean Spray sending the skateboard dude a cease and desist,” said @JonnyChase00 on Twitter. This sentiment spread quickly across the internet, leading to quite a PR disaster for the painting brand, however, quarterly numbers show that the company will probably be just fine after this blows over. Yes, Sherwin-Williams will take some bumps and bruises but will come out of this in the short term, but there are still lessons to be learned here.
Sherwin-Williams’ reaction to the viral TikTok is indicative of the inherent problems with a large corporate structure; when there’s no incentive to be ambitious and take a chance as Tony did, you crush the spirit of the young minds who are set to take on the business sphere in the coming years. While the painting giant may be fine now, where will their audience come from over the next couple of decades? Gen Zers will be buying homes, painting the interior and exterior, and getting creative, and it’s possible they won’t be picking up their buckets of paint from Sherwin-Williams when they remember how they reacted to Tony’s entrepreneurial spirit. In 2020, consumers care more than ever how companies treat customers, employees, and the environment, and it stems from the fact that stifling creativity and being told that your innovative idea has no place in a company is something that many people can relate to. Sherwin-Williams may not have felt like they needed Tony’s audience right now, but don’t come crying to Gen Zers when the vacancy signs start going up in ten years and the shells of the former paint stores are up for rent.
Conversely, Ocean Spray set an example of the good that can take place in the world when you lean into a cultural moment. Yes, at the end of the day, a new truck is a drop in the bucket for them, and the good PR move may just be something that helps the marketing team sleep soundly at night, but they still helped Nathan Apodaca. With so many people and small business owners struggling to keep the lights on in the midst of the pandemic, a move like this is just good business and good for the soul.
So, what can we learn from “A Tale of Two TikToks”? Don’t worry, you don’t have an analytical essay due tomorrow, but we can take a moment to reflect on the reactions of Ocean Spray and Sherwin-Williams. It goes to show that companies can’t continue to hide behind their corporate doors anymore and only peek their heads out after working on a canned marketing campaign in hopes it’ll take off. Brands who own organic viral and cultural moments (because let’s be honest, we’ve all had enough of companies trying to earnestly make their own moments) connect with people the most, and people always come first. They are your customers, your employees, and your audience. It goes to show that a simple skateboarding video that gave you free publicity can do more for your reputation than a million-dollar marketing push put together by an out-of-touch team. Companies need to be active in the social media sphere and demonstrate they are listening to their audience. Interact with them, laugh with them, and be proud of the ingenuity and creativity of your employees. All of this goes a long way in building a rapport that can be conceptualized on paper. Perhaps, most of all, don’t be a Scrooge.
Jon Frisch is a Content Creator at WebPunch. He lives in Pasadena, CA, and spends his time writing and recording music, playing guitar, and performing. He also got married in June! He is the fun uncle, or funcle, if you will, to ten awesome nieces and nephews. Jon loves a good karaoke night, writing comedy scripts, taking road trips, and finding the best coffee shops in town. Jon never passes up the opportunity for a good pun or a lame-dad joke.