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How a toothpaste brand tricked TikTokers into 230,000 comments & counting

The ugly side of brand engagement bait.

I don’t like to criticize brand social. So many brands make so much great content that I’d rather throw ink at who’s doing it right. But a brand just went very viral on TikTok for a slew of reasons I hate.

  • They manipulated consumers into engagement.

  • They trivialized social media salaries.

  • The content is strategically stupid.

Yeah, those are harsh words, but I wanna put the kibosh on this engagement bait before other brands wonder if they’re missing out on big numbers.

Let’s talk about why the 232,000 TikTok comments Gem Oral Care received in the last 3 days doesn’t justify the tactic they used to get ‘em.

The content in question

Gem is an Australia-based oral care company—toothpaste, toothbrushes, that sort of stuff. Like many DTC CPG companies, they’ve turned to TikTok to drum up interest via content. And like many DTC CPG companies, the content is off the rails.


I’M SPEECHLESS!!! help me hit my Christmas bonus and please comment 1 x 🎄below this video!!! 1 🎄 = $1!!! I have 1 week 😅 #christmasbonus #... See more

Yep. This brand just promised their social media manager $1 for every 🎄 comment they receive, with no cap. Unlimited bonus potential!

Naturally, it went viral. 227,000 comments in 48 hours! Only a grinch would see that content and not toss a tree her way! Let’s get that employee a huge bonus!!!

The problem is there’s no way Gem is paying their social media manager based on emojis in comments. Think about the content itself—it’s a phone, on a tripod, recording a zoom call, between a social media manager and a boss. That’s not how it works. That’s not how any of this works.

The brand either intentionally deceived social media users to generate bunches of comments or naively created the spiritual successor to that Instagram red swimsuit situation.

Consumer trust matters. A lot.

A recent study shows 67% of consumers must trust a brand before continuing to buy their services. Will any of these recent TikTok commenters trust Gem if they don’t pay that social manager every single dollar? My guess is no—they’re gonna get eagle eyed all week, and even a cent less could get them cancelled.

Gem is intentionally manipulating potential consumers into commenting on their TikTok. By commenting, users will muck up their personal feeds with more content from Gem or whatever the algorithm considers related to Gem, all because those commenters wanted to contribute to a good cause that likely doesn’t exist.

Not cool. Deceptive. Let’s be clear, here—if the brand does anything but pay that employee every dollar they’ve “earned,” they’re straight up lying to people.

Let’s remove social salaries from emojis.

Compensation is always a hot topic in the social industry. Let’s not give any young companies any bright ideas like tying year-end bonuses to comments on a specific social media post.

Sure, we want our social pros to be effective. Want to incentivize performance? Consider a spot bonus. But tying social media manager compensation to a specific social media metric is just begging young employees to break the game in ways that’ll hurt the brand.

The strategy is just… stupid.

Why… is a toothpaste brand… asking for Christmas tree emojis… as comments… from random people. That won’t do anything for them.

A quick google search reveals toothpaste costs $4-7 on average. Gem’s toothpaste is a full $9+, likely because their products “are free of the bad stuff, like parabens, triclosan, SLS and titanium dioxide, and full of the good stuff, like probiotics, earth minerals and natural oils.” They’re also Australia-based, making product shipping to the U.S. a cool $13+.

So their product is chasing health-conscious label readers who’ll ship in their toothpaste instead of grabbing a tube at CVS. That’s a veryyy specific customer. Asking for bunches of emojis on content that has nothing to do with their product in the first place does nothing to attract the right customers. It’s viral for viral’s sake. Even if some of that virality turns into sales, the more likely discourse is “didn’t that brand lie to people about paying a young employee?”

Is there any way to rationalize the content?

Sigh. I’m sure the original thinking assumed all virality is good, and that more comments = more views on future content. And per the original video, the $1 per 🎄 campaign runs for a full week—they’re probably thinking that’ll make the next 7 days of product-focused posts more viral & engaged than usual.

It’s just not gonna work that way. They’re far, far more likely to end up with a legion of pissed off TikTok users demanding they pay that professional, or maybe a Ray William Johnson storytime video.

It’s already starting, too. The brand’s next TikTok after treegate: a staff-essentials post, which inspired the following comment.

So it seems the brand’s sticking to the bit. And because they really emphasized the no cap thing, I can’t even begin to guess how they’re planning on playing this at the end of the week. I’m very certain it doesn’t end with a brand TikToker receiving $229,000, though.

The only out I can imagine: a video saying they can’t believe the response, appreciate their employee so much, and give what’s still an outlandish bonus to appease the masses.

Then again, this is a brand that posts stuff like this on their company TikTok.


Really outing myself here 😅 but cannot out the team x #thisismyfirstdrink #workchristmasparty #christmasparty #tiktokgonewrong

I’ll swing back with an update next week—make sure you’re subscribed to see this comedy or tragedy’s ending.

12/26 update: she claims she turned it down.

Here we are, a week later, and Gem’s social media manager has updated us.


Thank you so much for the support! We hope you have an incredible Christmas and Happy Holidays! 💕✨

She claims she was offered the full amount, which would’ve likely been well into the $300k area after a week’s worth of comments, but she turned it down while still receiving “a very, very generous Christmas bonus.”

I’m sure she received a great bonus. I’m also more certain than ever this was a really ridiculous attempt to fool consumers. To not reveal what she was paid, when the entire point of the content was to publicly reveal her bonus, is laughably suspect.

Then again, it seems all of TikTok has moved on—maybe even realized what was happening. In the week since the original video, all of Gem’s TikTok content has been expected brand promotional stuff. And, surprise surprise—it’s all flopped, because they attracted a bunch of viewers under a false premise. After netting 3.6 million views on the bonus video, their next 6 TikToks have plummeted in views.

To go from 3.6 million views on bonus video to 3,391 views on the bonus reveal shows the whole problem with bait-and-switch social strategies. That’s a 99.9906% decrease in views in one week.

Don’t do stuff like this.