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Although a lot of the examples we use in these abstracts refer to companies conducting marketing campaigns for their products, the modern world also allows a different form of marketing that promotes people’s individual “brands.” For example, on TikTok, young users seek to establish appealing streams to attract more followers, who then might donate virtual coins to their accounts.

Most efforts involve entertaining displays of dancing, effective edits and silly cuts, or other exciting and engaging content. But in a new development, TikTokers are finding that they can expand their reach by streaming a far less active view, namely, of themselves sleeping. Because the service enables followers to comment on live streams, which are not archived, the dark, static background provided in sleep videos creates an ideal setting for chats. In a sense, the quiet TikTok streams, unlike the often nearly manic activity in other videos, gives the consumers a blank screen on which they can achieve their consumption goals, such as establishing connections with other consumers.

It isn’t just sleep though; one TikTok account showed a pyramid of Solo cups, along with a note indicating that the account holder was asleep in the next room while the live stream was playing. Essentially, any static or calming image can work to provide consumers with the format they desire to meet their needs to connect with other TikTok users.

In return for establishing this calming, valuable setting, the posters earn hundreds or thousands of new followers. The digital coins some viewers donate also might earn them some payment. Several users report receiving about $10–$50 per session—not enough to support them maybe, but far more than they would have accrued if they were just sleeping without sharing it with the TikTok universe.

Other platforms also feature some sleep videos, though some of them expressly ban this content. For example, Twitch requires content creators to continue playing the video games they live stream, rather than leaving the feed unattended. However, the difficulty of monitoring such attendance means that similar videos, of gamers who have fallen asleep at their consoles, also have attracted followers and literally millions of shared views across other platforms. The modern economy might be digital; is it also perhaps best described as somnolent?

Discussion Questions:

  1. What features of TikTok make it an effective setting for marketing personal brands?
  2. Would you watch a sleep video on TikTok? What value might you gain from doing so?

Source: Taylor Lorenz, “How to Make Money in Your Sleep,” The New York Times, March 6, 2020