TikTok Quick-Meals Employee Pattern Difficult Manufacturers and Regulators
- Milag Mirg went viral while filming his work at Subway as part of an ongoing behind-the-scenes trend.
- He said his intent was not to be an advertisement, but he believes he has increased sales for Subway.
- Some experts fear that this will create a gray area in advertising guidelines.
When Milad Mirg goes to work these days, he usually has a camera strapped around his chest. The 21-year-old has worked in his parents’ Subway franchise for almost six years, but last spring – during a business downturn due to COVID-19 – he decided to change things over.
“Just for fun,” Mirg TikToking began at work. In August, he bought a camera harness and started making clips of sandwich assemblies in a POV style – a popular TikTok format designed to make viewers feel like they were looking from the first person perspective. He added voiceovers to everything from secret menus to Greek mythology. “People were obsessed,” he told insiders.
In the past year, Mirg has accumulated over 4.4 million TikTok followers and 1.8 million YouTube followers who saw him slicing bread, serving cheese and throwing cucumber slices into their container. Mirg said viewers drove for hours to visit his New Jersey store.
It is more and more common for service workers to expand their existing jobs by filming themselves at work – sometimes shooting to unexpected fame as a result. As companies have recognized this type of content, a complex shadow economy has emerged.
Service agent POV videos have become a huge TikTok trend
Dozens of fast food workers have built millions of followers by filming themselves at work.
Dylan Lemay, 24, started TikToking at Cold Stone Creamery in 2020 and now has 9.8 million followers. Starbucks employee Maya Smith has 2.1 million followers who make drinks mixing videos. A Dairy Queen employee has amassed 2.6 million followers who video of themselves icing, and a user who posts videos behind the scenes at Taco Bell has amassed 2.6 million likes. The #fastfoodworker tag has currently garnered 66 million views.
This type of content can be risky for creators. In November, a creator said KFC told him he “couldn’t post” after making a viral video allegedly showing how the brand’s sauce is made. In March this year, a Starbucks employee said they were fired after doing a sketch about annoying customers.
A Starbucks representative told BuzzFeed in March, “We have great respect for everyone [employee] in our company and the experience they have gained during their work with us. At the same time it is expected that [they] Create a respectful, safe, and welcoming environment while wearing the green apron. “
Some of these TikTokers may actually work with brands
Last fall, Dunkin ‘Donuts launched a team of “Crew Ambassadors” who are paid to post TikToks on the job.
Subway has a social listening team that Mirg first spotted last year – they reached out to him this spring and he signed a deal to create 11 videos, five for Subways TikTok and six for his own . Victoria Ambrozaitis, senior manager of creative services at Subway, said that things are “literally just getting started” with Mirg and that a program like Dunkin’s “is under consideration”. In a May video, Mirg claimed that his unsupported videos generated $ 44 million in “free advertising” for Subway.
Ambrozaitis didn’t confirm whether Mirg’s videos boosted sales, but she clearly sees value in his content. “People in general love to find something to connect with,” she said. “At Milad, people love his personality and he’s such a talented creator … I think that’s the benefit you wouldn’t necessarily see from a static image of a sandwich.”
At first glance, this may seem like a win-win for Mirg and Subway, but when his unsupported videos are essentially advertising, this is starting to paint a darker picture.
Collaborations between YouTubers and brands can confuse viewers
The FTC states that in the United States, “any financial, professional, personal, or family relationship with a brand” should be clear to followers of an influencer. Mirg’s 11 videos partnered with Subway were unambiguous ads – he told his viewers directly about the sponsorship and tagged paid videos with #SubwayPartner – but the rest of his content is still up for debate.
“I don’t see my videos as advertisements. I see them as videos of myself making sandwiches, but again they are the perfect advertisement,” said Mirg.
Eva van Reijmersdal is Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Amsterdam and researches online advertising and persuasive communication. She believes Mirg’s videos can affect his audience, which he believes are between four and 35 years old. When a traditional commercial starts, says van Reijmersdal, we recognize it as an advertisement and “either we avoid it or we increase our defense mechanisms”. If a third party like Mirg is involved, “then it becomes more believable and less offensive.”
Van Reijmersdal fears that by working with influencers, companies could circumvent fast food advertising regulations. The UK government is currently planning to ban junk food advertising online, but van Reijmersdal argues that this is difficult to enforce as “anyone can be an influencer” and “people will be exposed to international content”.
There are hidden complexities for TikTok influencers creating content around brands
Mirg isn’t against using the hashtag #ad “when there’s a good case,” but he argues that it could be “misleading” if he’s not paid by the company. Subway’s deal prevents Mirg from partnering with other fast food brands until November, but it retains editorial control. Occasionally, his content even portrays a negative view of his job – he has spoken of being afraid to serve customers and the prices are “too high”.
While there is a need for this content format, advertising laws (and perhaps some store managers) have yet to catch up. For many fast food employees, TikTok can add a bit of glamor to the job, but Mirg doesn’t necessarily recommend that everyone follow his lead. Though happy about the extra income, he initially spent a few thousand dollars on equipment (and sandwiches).
“If you just do it for money, you will fail. But if you really enjoy your job and want to share your experiences with others, something special happens,” he said. When we spoke, he was at Walmart buying items for a collaboration video with mega creator MrBeast.
“It feels the same,” he said when asked what it is like to have millions of followers.
“I don’t really see myself any different. I just try to work hard and be myself,” said Mirg. “I mean, I’m a subway worker. I don’t really ask for the world.”
For more stories like this, check out the Digital Culture Insider Team’s coverage here.