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5 TikTok Subcultures That Are Boosting Sales

Thanks to subcultures on TikTok, these industries have seen a recent surge in sales…

TikTok has become an unstoppable force in the world of social apps. YPulse’s Social Media Deep Dive trend report found that 40% of 13-39-year-olds currently use TikTok, with Gen Z is more likely to be on the app than Millennials. But it’s become more than just a platform for young people to participate in hashtag challenges and dance trends. It’s also a space where they’re connected with like-minded people and finding community around shared passions—and in the last year, TikTok has seen a massive amount of subcultures (and in some cases, digital cults have formed) form on the platform.

Subcultures aren’t an entirely new concept: We’ve told you how e-girls, Instagram Baddies, and VSCO girls have influenced Gen Z. But the increase in niche subcultures on the app has also proved to be a goldmine for brands as young users talk about the hottest new thing they just purchased. For instance, #cottagecore (which was 2020’s defining aesthetic) has a whopping seven million views on the app, and has led to a demand in secondhand cottagecore-esque items like gardening, painting, canning, and baking supplies, frilly dresses, and clothing in soothing, muted and natural colors. And of course, the hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt, which currently has four billion views, has helped numerous products go viral and sell out. But organic hype is also being generated around the items and products thanks to popular (and powerful) subcultures and communities. Our trend data also found that 28% of 13-39-year-olds say TikTok often features products and services they’re interested in buying, and these are some of the subcultures that are helping boost sales for specific industries:


Yes, young people do read books, and YPulse’s hobbies and passions research shows that 34% of Gen Z and Millennials have been reading books to take care of their mental health during COVID-19. Need further proof? Last year, a group of users on TikTok began impacting the book industry in a major way. #BookTok, which has 16.3 billion views, is made up mostly of women in their teens and twenties recommending books, recording time lapses of themselves reading, or “sob[bing] openly into the camera after an emotionally crushing ending.” Bookstores like Barnes & Noble even began setting up “BookTok” tables with titles—like We Were Liars, The Cruel Prince, and They Both Die at the End—that have gone viral on the platform. Some of the books featured were released years ago, and are now seeing a resurgence in sales and a bump on national bestseller lists thanks to the app. For example, Adam Silvera’s They Both Die at the End, which was published four years ago, saw a sudden uptick in sales last August (and is one of the highest selling books in the YA category) after becoming a favorite in the BookTok community. To date, #TheyBothDieAtTheEnd has garnered over 48 million views from users reacting to the book’s ending. Meanwhile, the NPD BookScan reported that sales for print books jumped 18.5% in the first six months of 2021 compared to one year prior, and young adult fiction is seeing the largest gain, with sales up by 48.8%. Juvenile and adult fiction sales also rose 17.8% and 30.7% respectively, and some publishers are betting that the rise in reading will continue—and the BookTok trend and community is helping authors find new audiences of young readers.


We’ve told you how “skinfluencers” (comprised of a mix of dermatologists, estheticians, and skincare enthusiasts) like Hyram Yarbro and Ashley White have been making waves on social media for their product reviews and skincare tips, and along with their millions of devout followers, has created a “SkinTok” subculture—and it’s emerged as Gen Z’s go-to source for all things skincare-related. The hashtag #SkinTok has 871.8 million views, while related hashtags like #skincare has 52 billion views, while #skincarebyhyram has 2.3 billion views. Some skin condition-specific hashtags like #acne has 12 billion views. In some cases, brands have jumped at the opportunity to work with prominent skinfluencers on SkinTok, and are seeing the positive outcomes: Peace Out Skincare’s pore strips saw a “fourfold increase” within 24 hours after they began working with Yarbro, while CeraVe collaborated with him after he frequently praised the brand—turning it into a “cult favorite” among Gen Z. We also told you how one influencer raving about The Ordinary’s AHA 30% + BHA 2% peeling solution directly contributed to a surge in sales of the product: 52,000 units in just two weeks. According to Skincare Hero data, The Ordinary and CeraVe are TikTok’s most searched beauty brands—with the #cerave hashtag generating one billion views and #theordinary showing 983.4 million views. However, while SkinTok and skinfluencers have the power to boost a brand’s sales, they’re also known to “break” a brand with their less-than-impressed thoughts, so it’s important for brands to pay attention to both the positive and negative reviews from subcultures when developing future products.


We’ve been tracking young people’s interest in all things supernatural, mystical, and magical for years, and YPulse’s most recent religion and spirituality behavioral survey found “spirituality” practices like astrology, dream interpretation, essential oils, witchcraft, and tarot are more popular than ever among young consumers. Our research found that 62% of 13-39-year-olds say mystical healing / supernatural practices are becoming mainstream. The percentage of young people who say mystical healing and supernatural powers can influence health has increased by 19pts compared to 2017, and 63% agree it can be a part of self-care—and their interests are certainly evident on TikTok, specifically the SpirtualTok subculture. The #SpirtualTok hashtag has 5.9 million views, and features users talking about everything from astrology to New Age concepts. Other related hashtags like #tarot, which has 10.8 billion views, has recently been trending on the app, with users sharing their tarot card decks and interpreting them for viewers, like predicting if they’ll be in a new relationship, or sharing which characteristics will bring them positivity in their lives. The #WitchTok community has also generated billions of views on the app, as TikTok witches have come together to hex the moon and share spells. All of the increased interest in things like reincarnation, astrology, physics, “and the presence of spiritual energy in physical objects like mountains or trees” has also led to an increase in sales and a business boom for specific industries: Astrology site Dazed Digital saw a 22% increase in horoscope-related traffic compared in 2020 compared to the year before, while Bloomberg reported that the market for gems and healing crystals were outpacing the diamond market. Astrology apps like horoscope platform Co-star reported 7.5 million registered users and reports they’ve been downloaded by 15% of 20-to-24-year-old women. Meanwhile, tarot readers, mystics, and psychics are racking up thousands and millions of views and followers on social platforms like OnlyFans and YouTube.


Squishmallows have been around since 2017, but they’ve especially exploded in demand in the last year. The “huggable, collectible plush toys” have grown from just eight unique characters to more than 800, and are sold in 40 countries. Hunting for rare ones has become a pastime among older kids, and many fandom-specific characters from Star Wars and Sanrio ones have been especially popular among devoted fans. And just like the popular stuffed animals before them, they’ve become the Webkinz or Beanie Babies of this generation, thanks to their collectable product line. Older Gen Z and Millennials have created a fan community around Squishmallows as well. On social platforms like TikTok, the hashtag #squishmallows has over 1.5 billion views, while #squishtok has 478.8 million views. Many of the videos feature users showing off all their Squishmallows, or staging them in elaborate scenarios. (The r/Squishmallows subreddit on Reddit has more than 24.2K members, and hundreds of groups on Facebook dedicated to sharing information about the toys.) The subculture’s obsession has certainly generated sales: According to Jazwares, the parent company of Kellytoy, more than 73 million Squishmallow toys were sold in early March—and sales had tripled in the last six months before. Google Trends shows that search interest in the term has been climbing since last August. Kellytoy co-president Jonathan Kelly told YPulse: “Our early emphasis on social media and community building allowed us to gain a good understanding of the segments in our audience.”

#WaterCult / Hydration TikTok 

Yes, even water has become a trend on TikTok. Nalgene, S’well, and Hydro Flask have all had their pre-TikTok moments (although Hydro Flask was on the cusp with VSCO girls), and now a new age of water bottle brands are gaining similar (organic) hype from TikTok influencers. Simple Modern water bottles were one of the first to stir excitement after TikTok influencer Tinx introduced her fans to the brand’s Classic Tumbler last fall, dubbing it an “adult sippy cup.” The Adventure Quencher Travel Tumbler, Waterdrop, Fidus Motivational Water Bottle, Coldest, Cirkul, and gallon water bottles became the next fan favorites of #hydration TikTok after influencers like Utah-based mom Rachel Parcell, Peloton instructor Emma Lovewell, lifestyle influencer Grace Atwood, and even the Kardashians shared their love for the bottles. Cirkul, which launched in 2018, notes a significant uptick in sales due to their popularity on TikTok (#cirkulwaterbottle has nearly 40 million views on TikTok) as its order volume grew more than 300% from December 2020 to March 2021. As mentioned, YPulse has been tracking how products can gain instant virality on TikTok, and “Water Cult” (coined by writer Danielle Prescod on Instagram) has become the young consumer guide for all things #hydration, which currently has 181.1 million views on TikTok.

YPulse Business users can access the full Social Media Deep Dive trend report and data here.  

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