TikTok Fast-Food Worker Trend Challenging Brands and Regulators

Will Kreznick

Milag Mirg went viral filming his work at Subway as part of an ongoing behind-the-scenes trend. He said his intention isn’t to be an advertisement, but he believes he’s boosted sales for Subway. Some experts are concerned that this creates a gray area when it comes to advertising guidelines. When […]

  • Milag Mirg went viral filming his work at Subway as part of an ongoing behind-the-scenes trend.
  • He said his intention isn’t to be an advertisement, but he believes he’s boosted sales for Subway.
  • Some experts are concerned that this creates a gray area when it comes to advertising guidelines.

When Milad Mirg goes to work these days, more often than not there’s a camera strapped to his chest. The 21-year-old has worked at his parents’ Subway franchise for nearly six years, but last spring — during a lull in business because of COVID-19 — he decided to switch things up. 

“Just for fun,” Mirg started TikToking at work. In August, he bought a camera harness and began creating clips of sandwich assembly in a POV style — a popular TikTok format intended to make the viewer feel like they’re watching from a first-person perspective. He added voiceovers about everything from secret menus to Greek mythology. “People were obsessed,” he told Insider. 

In the last year, Mirg has accumulated over 4.4 million TikTok followers and 1.8 million YouTube followers who watch him cutting bread, arranging cheese, and tossing cucumber slices into their container. Mirg said viewers have driven for hours to visit his New Jersey store.  

It is increasingly common for service workers to augment their existing jobs by filming themselves at work — sometimes shooting to unexpected fame as a result. As corporations have caught on to this type of content, it’s created a complex gray economy.

POV videos from service workers have become a huge TikTok trend

Numerous fast-food workers have built followings of millions by filming themselves at work.

24-year-old Dylan Lemay began TikToking at Cold Stone Creamery in 2020 and now has 9.8 million followers. Starbucks employee Maya Smith has gained 2.1 million followers making videos mixing drinks. A Dairy Queen worker has accumulated 2.6 million followers making videos of herself icing cakes, and a user who posts behind-the-scenes videos of Taco Bell has accumulated 2.6 million likes. The tag #fastfoodworker has currently accumulated 66 million views.

 

This kind of content can be risky for creators. In November, one creator said KFC told him he “can’t post anymore” after he filmed a viral video purportedly showing how the brand’s gravy is made. This March, a Starbucks employee said they were fired after they made a skit about annoying customers. 

A Starbucks representative told BuzzFeed in March that, “We have deep respect for every [employee] at our company and the experience they have while employed by us. At the same time, there is an expectation that [they] create a respectful, safe and welcoming environment while wearing the green apron.”

Some of these TikTokers may actually be working with brands

Last autumn, Dunkin’ Donuts launched a team of “crew ambassadors” who get paid to post TikToks on the job. 

Subway has a “social listening” team that first spotted Mirg last year — this spring, they reached out to him and he signed a contract to create 11 videos, five for Subway’s TikTok and six for his own. Victoria Ambrozaitis, senior manager of creative services at Subway, said things are “literally just kicking off” with Mirg and that a program like Dunkin’s is “in consideration.” In a May video, Mirg claimed he created $44 million of “free advertising” for Subway with his non-sponsored videos.

Ambrozaitis didn’t confirm whether Mirg’s videos have boosted sales, but she clearly sees value in his content. “People in general on social love to find something to be connected to,” she said. “With Milad, people love his personality, and he’s such a talented creator… I think that’s the benefit that you wouldn’t necessarily see from just a static image of a sandwich.” 

On the face of it, this may seem like a win-win situation for both Mirg and Subway, but if his unsponsored videos are essentially functioning as advertisements, it begins to paint a murkier picture.

 

Arrangements between creators and brands can lead to confusion for viewers

The FTC states that in the US, “any financial, employment, personal, or family relationship with a brand” should be clear to an influencer’s followers. Mirg’s 11 videos partnered with Subway were clear-cut ads — he directly told his viewers about the sponsorship and marked paid-for videos with #SubwayPartner — but the rest of his content remains up for debate. 

“I don’t consider my videos as advertising. I consider them as videos of me making sandwiches, but like, in turn, they are the perfect advertisement,” Mirg said.

Eva van Reijmersdal is an associate professor of communication science at the University of Amsterdam who researches online advertising and persuasive communication. She believes that Mirg’s videos can influence his audience, who he said ranges in age from four to 35. When a traditional commercial starts, van Reijmersdal said, we recognize it as advertising and “either avoid it or raise our defense mechanisms.” If a third party like Mirg is involved, “then it becomes more believable and less offensive.” 

Van Reijmersdal worries that by working with influencers, companies may bypass fast food advertising regulations. The UK government is currently planning to ban online junk food advertising, but van Reijmersdal argues 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 is not opposed to using hashtag #ad “if there’s a good enough case,” but he argues it could be “misleading” when he’s not getting paid by the corporation. Subway’s contract prevents Mirg from partnering with other fast-food brands until November, but he retains editorial control. Occasionally, his content even presents a negative view of his job — he has talked about being scared to serve customers and prices being “too high”.

 

While there is an appetite for this format of content, advertising legislations (and perhaps some store managers) have yet to catch up. For many fast-food workers, TikTok can insert a little glamour into the job, but Mirg doesn’t necessarily recommend that everyone follows his lead. Though he is happy for the extra income, he spent a couple of thousand dollars on equipment (and sandwiches) when he first started out. 

“If you’re doing it purely for money, you’re gonna fail. But if you genuinely enjoy your job and want to share your experience with others, that’s when something special happens,” he said. When we spoke, he was in Walmart buying items for a collab video with mega-creator MrBeast. 

“It feels the same,” he said when asked what it’s like to have accumulated millions of followers.

“I don’t really see myself differently. I just kind of try to work hard and be myself,” Mirg said. “I mean, I’m a Subway worker. I’m not really asking for the world.” 

For more stories like this, check out coverage from Insider’s Digital Culture team here.

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