Small business owner Kelsey Onstott, who creates balloon art installations in the Houston, Texas area, has sparked a TikTok-wide controversy by sharing the pricing of her creations.
After receiving negative comments about the pricing of her work, Onstott posted a video in which she challenged her critics to recreate her balloon moasics in 30 minutes using cheaper balloons.
The clip racked up millions of views and thousands more critical comments — and some creators responded by making their own balloon videos.
Other creators are enjoying the chaos of "balloon drama" TikTok.
One business owner's viral video has inspired a new genre of online controversy: balloon drama TikTok.
TikTok user Kelsey Onstott, who runs a balloon art installation business in Texas called That Balloon Girl, sparked online discussion when she shared the pricing of her creations.
Onstott's Houston-based company, which she founded in February of 2019, specializes in elaborate balloon garlands and "mosaics" in which letter and number outlines are filled with balloons.
The 30-year-old frequently posts her colorful designs on That Balloon Girl's Instagram and TikTok and has created mosaics for birthdays, graduations, baby showers, and "welcome home" parties, among other events.
On her website, Onstott said she left a "six-figure job" in the corporate world to "'play' with balloons full time."
"I hated being behind a desk," she told Insider. "So I started working with balloons. And people liked what I was doing, so the business grew pretty rapidly."
Her designs, however, don't come cheap. The business owner's mosaics, according to her recent posts, go for $250 to $300 per piece.
"I've always been very upfront about my pricing," Onstott said. "It may not work for some people, and that's totally understandable. But listing my prices on social media has been a great resource for clients — they can see my work and know what they can expect to pay."
She added that she's never received pushback from clients about cost.
After some TikTok users criticized Onstott for the pricing of her creations, she fired back with a video challenging them to do her job more effectively
In a video posted on Saturday, Onstott said she's received "a lot of really weird comments" about the pricing of her pieces from critics claiming that her balloon mosaics took only "30 minutes to make" and could be recreated for just $5 with balloons from a retail chain like Party City.
While assembling a custom-color, 5-foot balloon mosaic — for which she said she charged $300 — the business owner challenged her viewers to duet the video with their own 30-minute creations using Party City Balloons.
"Duet me. Because I'd love to see it," she said in the clip, referencing a feature on the app that allows users to share another creator's video while adding their own content to the original clip or "duetting."
The video, Onstott explained, was a defense of the time and effort that she puts into her work.
"People who make those comments have no idea what it takes to run a small business," she said.
Custom color 5ft balloon mosaic $300 - if you can go to party city and spend $5 on balloons and replicate this please duet me- thanks ##fyp
♬ Taste It - Ikson
In just 4 days, Onstott's TikTok racked up 18 million views and sparked a platform-wide debate about the value of custom balloon creations
Hundreds of commenters lamented the price of the mosaics and some even accused Onstott of "scamming" customers.
"For $300, it better walk and sing," one viewer quipped.
"I'm all about supporting small businesses but you need to be realistic," added TikTokker and influencer Sam Vicchiollo, who boasts nearly 2 million followers on the platform.
Viewers have also flocked to the comments section of past videos, joking that her creations would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
As Onstott's video racked up more and more engagement — and made its way to millions of TikTok users' For You pages — some creators responded with their own content.
Several delighted in the drama by duetting Onstott's video and lip-syncing the audio from the original clip. Popular TikTokker Tyler Bott, who has accrued 2.6 million followers with his short-form comedy, mimicked the business-owner while pulling up prices of balloons.
"[L]literally it's cheaper than $5," he captioned the clip.
Other TikTok users responded by posting their own balloon creations
According to the clip, she cut letter outlines from Dollar Tree foamboard, reinforced the structure with bamboo sticks, and filled the outline with balloons purchased from Amazon. She went on to use leftover balloons to create a matching garland.
In just one day, her video got over 2 million views.
Meanwhile, TikTok user @fancynancyin5th, who claims she used to make balloon and twinkle light lettering for special events, also posted a video detailing her creative process.
While she says she charged "so much less" than Onstott did for mosaics, the process took longer than 30 minutes to complete.
The final creation, according to the elapsed time on a stopwatch, took just over 38 minutes to complete.
"I'm happy with it for 1st time rushed DIY at 2 AM!" they captioned the clip.
Onstott told Insider that the duets were "a great example" of the point she hoped to make in her video.
"I saw the duets and I thought 'some of these are impressive, but it's a real testament to the difference,'" she said. "I think the end products don't look like mine — what I do can't be replicated in 38 minutes."
One of Onstott's friends even tried to assemble a DIY balloon creation, she said, but found she wasn't up to the task.
"The whole time she was doing it, she was saying to me, 'This is beyond me. I will never ever do this again. It's not as easy as it looks,'" Onstott recalled.
Some creators have come to Onstott's defense
TikTokker Rob Anderson, who boasts over 1 million followers, weighed in on balloon drama and acknowledged that Onstott is providing a service that her customers have no interest in undertaking themselves.
"People are furious that this woman charges $300 for this custom letter thing for events. Yeah, 'cause you're all kids with no money! Of course you think that," he said, laughing. "You think these rich people wanna spend their entire day going and getting balloons and blowing them up and putting them in a letter? That's just one of dozens of decorations at their event? No!"
##duet with @that_balloon_girl WHO EVEN HAS THE TIME MY GOD $300 is a steal mama
♬ Taste It - Ikson
Onstott's clients have also taken to social media to defend the value of her work.
"I'm a repeat customer of @that_balloon_girl and I'm here to tell you she's worth every penny," one wrote in an Instagram story.
"As a previous customer, I recommend her to everyone, and if you're not willing to pay someone for their time and effort, go somewhere else," another said.
Onstott said hearing from satisfied customers has been "really reassuring" amid an influx of commenters' opinions.
"The amount of clients that have reached out and said, 'please do not worry about the trolls,' has been really amazing," she said. "Not that I had any doubts."
Those who simply enjoyed the back-and-forth of the 'balloon drama' made their own videos
While some TikTokkers took passionate stands for and against Onstott's pricing, others were simply grateful to witness the online chaos — and they posted content commemorating the latest viral controversy.
While the online discourse has been chaotic, Onstott told Insider that she's not worried — and she'll continue to create her designs
"My clients see the work that I do and they continue to use me over and over — and they love the service I provide," she said. "That's what I definitely am focusing on."
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