Fitness influencer goes viral for catching neighbor stealing her packages on camera — but was it all an ad?

In August, Desiree Mize went viral on TikTok.

Mize has an impressive following of over 683,000 followers and dedicates her account to #TransformationTuesday posts and the workouts she loves that helped her lose 160 pounds. Previously, her most successful video had racked up 6.5 million views — but this time, it was more than double that.

The video wasn’t of Mize in her usual matching workout attire with her long blonde hair looking perfectly wavy. Instead, it was of another woman, dressed in a purple workout set, walking her dog, with her face blurred out.

The video read: “When you’ve had 2 Buffbunny packages stolen in the last week and you see someone walking around your complex in an unreleased set.”

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“Do we need a full story time on this??” Mize asked in the caption.

Buffbunny, a women-owned fitness apparel company, was hashtagged on the video, and the brand’s founder, Heidi Somers, commented, “CAUGHT PURPLE HANDED.”

Mize ran with the success of the video and posted an additional 12 videos about the #BuffbunnyBandit. In the third video, Mize started to include the names of specific Buffbunny items in the captions and a unique discount code “DEZ” — but she did not include the hashtag #ad.

Since 2017, the Federal Trade Commission has mandated that social media influencers make it clear if their posts are ads or in collaboration with whatever brand they’re promoting to protect followers and consumers. To make this clear, influencers use the hashtag #ad to disclose that they are getting compensated for their post.

This is how influencers make their money — by working with brands to advertise or promote products or services to their tens of thousands of followers. Especially for influencers on platforms like Instagram and TikTok, which do not have creator payment systems that users can monetize.

Mize told In The Know the situation was “truly unintentional marketing.” She revealed that she had been working with Buffbunny, and because of the allegedly stolen packages, she was two weeks behind on posts for them.

“My followers were wondering why I hadn’t posted anything about the new launch, so I posted the video of the bandit wearing my pieces to show them why,” she explained. “I focused on telling the story for my followers instead of filming my normal clothing haul videos.”

Buffbunny used similar language when talking to In The Know, describing the video series as “not being an intentional marketing tactic.”

“We were flooded with questions asking if this was fake and planned as a marketing tactic, and we’re here to state that this was not that,” Buffbunny asserted.

Buffbunny declined to share further details about the brand’s influencer program that Mize is a part of. But Mize insisted that she was not asked to include outfit information in her storytime captions.

“Buffbunny Collection understood why I couldn’t do my normal content for this launch but didn’t ask me to tag them or include my code in captions,” she added. “I did this because some people don’t know what the brand is, and my code offers a discount to people who happen to love the outfits.”

Mize noted that her discount code “does allow [her] to receive a commission of sales.”

While Mize makes it clear in her videos that she works as a Buffbunny influencer, it is not explicitly clear to followers what that entails. Some may correctly assume she gets the outfits free, but how many TikTok users, who aren’t influencers themselves, understand that a special discount code also gives the influencer commission?

In one of the later videos, Mize announced a #BuffbunnyBandit Giveaway where five followers could win the purple set the woman in the original video was seen wearing by commenting on Mize’s Instagram.

“The only thing I collaborated with [Buffbunny] on was toward the end of my story with gifting my followers some purple sets since everyone loved the outfit so much,” Mize said.

The giveaway announcement also did not include #ad on TikTok or Instagram.

Was the #BuffbunnyBandit story an ad?

Ultimately, if nothing about the #BuffbunnyBandit was planned and Mize didn’t make any money off the sets, then Mize and Buffbunny are technically in the clear with FTC guidelines. It’s not clear whether Mize was able to sell sets with her discount code, which would give her some commission — information that is not blatantly available to people watching her TikToks. The FTC legally can’t comment on specific situations but sent In The Know a document on disclosure laws for influencers.

Mize did get a free Ring doorbell camera out of the storytime, which she shared in one of her later updates. Because she read the offer out loud in the video and clearly explained she was getting a Ring camera free, she was fulfilling FTC requirements in that one clip.

But some viewers were skeptical and accused Mize’s storytime of being a “PR stunt” — which makes sense because manufactured viral moments are becoming a prevalent form of sneaky ads on social media.

There’s really no punishment in place for not following FTC rules, and there is an infinite amount of content being produced online that makes monitoring everything impossible. The problem is especially prevalent on TikTok, where hundreds of creators — even big names — get away with promoting products without specifying whether they were paid to do it.

What are manufactured viral moments?

Staging viral moments has become a big topic of conversation after singer Halsey, ironically, went viral for saying their label Astralwerks/Capitol wouldn’t release the artist’s new single “unless they can fake a viral moment on TikTok.”

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Earlier in the year, singer GAYLE found success with her song “abcdefu” going viral on TikTok and then charting on Billboard Global. The story goes that GAYLE posted on her TikTok asking followers for songwriting ideas when someone named Nancy Berman suggested “the alphabet” in a comment. Weeks later, the song was released by Atlantic Records.

The Nancy Berman account was then accused of being run by an Atlantic Records employee by TikToker Daniel Wall. Atlantic Records confirmed to outlets that the comment was left by a marketing manager at the label but was “a playful comment” because the song was already about to drop.

Like the #BuffbunnyBandit story, these fake viral moments seem to skirt FTC guidelines, but TikTok viewers still don’t entirely trust them as genuine. It’s easy to see why when going through Mize’s comments section and seeing the number of people who write things like, “I did not know about buffbunny until this … gotta go check it out now” and “i was soooo invested in this 🤣 i NEED a buff bunny bandit set now.”

While monitoring every single thing that gets posted on TikTok is impossible, it is imperative that TikTok tackle the issue before losing its predominantly Gen Z audience and user base. This generation, which has grown up on the internet, wants an authentic online experience and won’t stick around if they get repeatedly shown ads and fake viral moments.

And for TikTok, users are everything.

The post A viral 13-part TikTok storytime about an apartment complex thief feels suspiciously like an ad appeared first on In The Know.

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