Pepsi, Starbucks and McDonald’s use TikTok challenges to encourage users to sell junk food

Bye tik tak once considered an app for teenagers, many of the world’s biggest brands have realized its potential to reach a wide audience and have launched their own accounts.

Now the study has shown how junk food brands including Pepsi, Starbucks and McDonald’s are encouraging TikTokers to sell their products to them via hashtags.

Researchers at Deakin University in Australia studied videos from 16 food and drink brands and uncovered clever tactics used to get brands noticed on TikTok.

For example, research highlights Pepsi. IndiaThe #SwagStepChallenge, which challenged viewers to make a swag sign by using their hands to activate Pepsi-branded sunglasses.

This contest hashtag has been viewed a whopping 107.9 billion times and provided Pepsi with extensive free marketing.

“Our research shows that TikTok is an emerging source of junk food marketing, including user-driven brand-driven marketing,” the researchers write in their study, published in BMJ Global Health.

“Given the popularity of TikTok among children, our results support the need for policies that protect children from the harmful effects of food marketing, including on social media platforms.”

Starbucks' #SipIntoSummer contest has reached 10.9 billion views on TikTok.

Researchers from Deakin University in Australia found out how many brands not only use their own accounts for promotional activities, but also encourage viewers to sell their products to them.

Most popular hashtag calls

  1. pepsi #SwagStepChallenge – 107.9 billion views
  2. Leys #SmileDekeDeho – 49 billion views
  3. Doritos #DoritosFlatLife – 17.6 billion views
  4. Cheetos #ItWasntMe – 13.9 billion views
  5. Starbucks #SipIntoSummer – 10.9 billion views
  6. Doritos #DoritosDuetRoulette – 9.5 billion views
  7. McDonald’s #McDonaldsCCSing – 8.6 billion views
  8. Cheetos #DejaTuHuella – 4.8 billion views
  9. 7Eleven #SlurpeeSummer – 2.6 billion views
  10. Starbucks #MadeReadyDuet – 12.7 million views

With over a billion users, TikTok has become a popular social media app for people all over the world and is especially popular with kids.

Despite this, little research has been done on how junk food is advertised on the app among young people.

“Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine the use of own media by major junk food brands on TikTok. [and the] the nature of the branded hashtag challenges triggered by junk food brands and the user-generated content created in response to them,” the researchers explained.

During the study, the team evaluated videos posted by 16 food and beverage brands as of June 30, 2021.

The study included 16 brands: M&M’s, Extra/Orbit, Lay’s, Doritos, Cheetos, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Sprite, Fanta, Diet Coke, McDonald’s, Starbucks, KFC, 7-Eleven and Burger King.

Their analysis showed that 16 accounts posted 539 videos, of which 3% were posted in 2019, 37% in 2020, and 60% in the first six months of 2021.

Four accounts – Coca-Cola, Sprite, Fanta and Diet Coke – did not post videos.

Diet Coke had the lowest number of subscribers (14), while Starbucks had the most (1.6 million).

On average, the videos received 63,400 views, 5,829 likes, 157 comments and 36 reposts.

Many of the most popular videos encouraged viewers to create their own videos featuring brands’ products.

Pepsi’s #SwagStepChallenge was the most popular with 107.9 billion hashtag views, followed by #SmileDekeDekho by Lay (49 billion views), #DoritosFlatLife by Doritos (17.6 billion views) and #ItWasntMe by Cheetos (13.9 billion views).

“Brand activity has increased rapidly—most videos were posted 6 months prior to data collection—and includes inciting brand hashtags that encourage user-generated content featuring branded products, brand-provided videos, or branded effects,” the researchers write.

The McDonald's #McDonaldsCCSing hashtag hit 8.6 billion views and encouraged viewers to duet with the brand.

The McDonald’s #McDonaldsCCSing hashtag hit 8.6 billion views and encouraged viewers to duet with the brand.

With over a billion users, TikTok has become a popular social media app for people all over the world and is especially popular with kids.

With over a billion users, TikTok has become a popular social media app for people all over the world and is especially popular with kids.

“An analysis of a sample of brand-relevant user-generated content created in response to this showed that branded hashtag challenges effectively turn users into what TikTok calls “unofficial brand ambassadors.”

Videos posted by influencers were particularly effective, garnering nearly 10 times more likes per video on average than seemingly unpaid videos.

“The substantial reach of influencer marketing is of concern, given that exposure to junk food influencer marketing has been shown to increase energy intake (from junk food and overall),” the researchers added.

The UK Health and Care Bill proposes to ban all “paid” online marketing of “less healthy food and drink” from 2023.

However, the researchers highlight the proposed exception in the bill.

“The proposed exemption for brand-only advertising (i.e. brand advertising with no identifiable unhealthy products in the ad) risks limiting child protection,” they explained.

“Nearly half of the brand hashtags in our study promoted brands rather than products per se, and thus appear to fall outside the scope of the proposed law.”

Based on the results, the researchers are calling for more effective policies to protect children from the harmful effects of online food marketing.

“TikTok’s growing popularity also warrants further research into its potential impact on public health and its role as a corporate political player,” they concluded.


The Committee on Advertising Practices (CAP) has created a document called “Influencer’s Guide to Making It Clear Advertising is Advertising”.

This body represents advertisers, media owners and agencies and is responsible for writing advertising codes.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is the regulator of advertising in the UK and ensures that advertisements in the UK media comply with advertising guidelines.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) can take action against people.

Sixteen celebrities have been arrested for consistently violating the rules set by these government agencies.

When content promotes certain products or services and contains a hyperlink or discount code, the poster gets paid for every “click” or sale of that content.

Therefore, it falls under the category of advertising and should be treated as advertising.

Affiliate links or discount codes can only be used for part of the content, not for everything.

In this case, the user must clearly indicate that only these sections are advertising, but it should be obvious.

If they work with a brand to create content that will be posted on the user’s channel.

It qualifies as brand advertising if the company (1) “paid” them in some way, or (2) had some editorial “control”.

By this we mean free services, not just payment. #freebie is offered as a label to make it clear.

Goods, gifts, services, travel, hotel stays, etc. provided free of charge are likely to qualify as a “fee”.

#ad or #sponsored are some of the obvious ways a poster should brand their content.

It should also be featured prominently at the start of the post, and not hidden among other hashtags.

Previously, influencers could state with impunity who they work for in their bio, this will no longer be enough, and every post must be labeled accordingly.

More than one commercial partnership must also be listed for each position.