“TikTok Made Me Buy It!” and why it’s also making you overconsume

Latavya Chintada, Staff Writer

Have you ever bought an item you’ve seen off of TikTok? What about Instagram or Facebook? It could be an article of clothing you thought was nice on someone else, maybe a makeup product that has been going viral or even a piece of furniture that fits your minimalist aesthetic. The answer to this question is probably a resounding yes—most of us have probably bought something we have seen on social media. Given the prevalence of social media and the amount of time we spend online, we likely come across advertisements for popular products often. A statistical study published in 2023 showed that the average time Americans spend on digital media is over eight hours daily. Looking at my own screen time, it’s definitely not too far off.

Recently, I’ve been seeing many TikTok videos of Christmas hauls, fashion trends, viral makeup products and more. While your “For You” page (FYP) might be a little different, you may also be seeing a lot of similar themes, such as bulk buying or trending items. You might also notice that TikTok and other social media platforms don’t just show videos or advertisements of random items that have nothing to do with you—rather, these apps tailor their content to align with your own interests or search history, making it a very effective way to boost business and get people to actually buy the things they see. This strategy is called neuromarketing.

Neuromarketing is the application of neuroscience to marketing so companies can identify user preferences, motivations and needs without the use of less-revealing traditional surveys. It allows businesses to truly understand how the user responds at the subconscious level. This isn’t a new phenomenon—it’s been around for years on Instagram, Snapchat, Google, etc. However, it’s even more prominent on TikTok, since the app does such a good job at quickly curating a FYP specific to your interests with its algorithm. It does this by measuring user interactions with a video (i.e., likes, watch time and comments) to see how engaged you are, and recommend more or less videos based off of that engagement. If you follow a certain creator, it might suggest other similar creators or content for you to view. For example, one time I searched for Tupperware containers on Google, hoping to buy some for food storage. Not even 10 minutes later, a video on Tupperware appeared on Tiktok. I don’t know for sure if TikTok utilizes your search history to curate an FYP, but I can’t deny that this instance was eerily coincidental.

You may be wondering, well, if neuromarketing has been around for years, then why is overconsumption such an issue right now with TikTok? The problem is that TikTok is a fast-paced video platform site. Because of this, microtrends are coming and going in the blink of an eye. It seems as if just yesterday, patchwork denim, money pieces and matte makeup were in style. As a user, you see influencers participating in microtrends and seek to emulate their style. You cave and buy a bunch of items to give you some temporary satisfaction. After only a couple of months these trends have passed and are no longer in style, so you try to chase the next microtrend for another chance at fleeting satisfaction. Just in the past month, we’ve seen a variety of different trends and aesthetics from “clean girl” to “vanilla girl” to “Stockholm style” to “coastal granddaughter”—all of which encompass the same theme of basic tops with gold jewelry.

Because we are becoming so obsessed with buying the latest thing, we seek out more and more items to give us temporary pleasure, ultimately leading to overconsumption and waste. To avoid this, I personally have tried limiting my time on TikTok, but I still couldn’t escape. Even if I wasn’t on Tiktok, I saw advertisements on Instagram or YouTube; in the digital world, advertisements will follow you wherever you go. Instead, I tried to adopt a different mindset when it came to viewing things online: I tried to de-influence myself by asking questions like “Do I really need this?” or “Would I still be using this five years later?” As a result, I am able to limit my overconsumption and think more mindfully about my purchases. With how easy it is to be influenced on TikTok these days with its many trends, it might be useful to also consider de-influencing yourself to live more sustainably and be more financially responsible.