Classical liberalism and its relationship to TikTok

What do TikTok influencers and classical liberalism have in common? The idea that individuals will act in their own self-interest is one possible answer.

Classical liberalism

There are four main ideas that can be used to explain classical liberalism: egoism, intellectualism, quietism, and atomism (Rotzoll, Haefner, & Hall, 1990). Each idea describes the nature of individuals and society.

According to the previously cited article, egoism assumes individuals act in their own self-interest, and quietism adds that our self-seeking nature makes it so that we are disinterested if there is a lack of a reward. The idea of atomism states that society is a mere aggregation of individuals, so institutions are unable to manipulate individuals. Additionally, intellectualism assumes that individuals are rational and make deliberate and calculated decisions.

TikTok as influencing platform

The COVID-19 pandemic caused everything to stop, so marketers had to rethink how to sell their brands amidst a global crisis. Many companies used TikTok campaigns to gain attention from its users including e.l.f. and Procter & Gamble (Neff, 2020).

Videos like these became a way for brands to engage with their audience while also promoting healthy habits. They were less about selling products and more about having fun during a difficult time.

How the two ideas connect

Since egoism states that people are motivated by self-interest, they will watch the TikTok videos they enjoy and be exposed to these brands. Some verified TikTok artists are featured in these videos, which means that many individuals are interested in what brands they are promoting.

The cosmetic brand e.l.f started its “eyes, lips, face, safe” campaign to promote hand washing and social distancing. Those that were interested in viewing these videos were also reminded of the what the brand’s initials stand for.


Y’all better lather up 🧼 Keep your eyes, lips, face safe! 👀👄🤩 #eyeslipsface #elfyeah @illwayno @hollafyesixwun

♬ Eyes. Lips. Face. Safe. e.l.f. Cosmetics – elfyeah

Even though a message that came out of the pandemic was to be respectful of others and stay home, the idea of egoism assumes that the act of compassion is motivated by one’s self-interest.

Procter & Gamble started #distancedance on TikTok as a way to promote their donation campaign to Feeding American and Matthew 25. By including this information, they engaged individuals interested in helping and asking them to make their own video to spread awareness. Anyone who did not have an interest in these charities were not likely to participate.


Stay home & do the distancedance. Tag me & the hashtag in your video. P&G will donate to Feeding America & Matthew 25 for first 3M videos #PGPartner

♬ Big Up’s (feat. Yung Nnelg) – Jordyn, Nic Da Kid

Self-interest is the guiding principle of our choices, so when brands align themselves with healthy habits during a pandemic — washing your hands and social distancing — people may become more interested in what that company is selling.

Someone who likes fun songs to remind themselves to wash their hands may be more inclined to buy e.l.f. products, and those that like it when big companies donate to charitable organizations will be more likely to purchase P&G brands.

TikTok is used as a source of entertainment and as a way for influencers to promote certain brands. The individual is motivated by their own self-interest in the platform, influencers, or brands to engage with the content. This helps prove that the principle of egoism has a strong relationship with the use of TikTok influencers.

Works cited:

Neff, J. (2020). How Brands are Staying ‘Influential’ During the Pandemic.

Rotzoll, K.B., Haefener, J.E., & Hall, S.R. (1990). Advertising and Classical Liberalism. In K.B. Rotzoll, J.E. Haefener, & S.R. Hall (Eds.), Advertising in Contemporary Society (pp. 13-29). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Published by aschmelzer

I am a journalism student at Bradley University, and I work for the campus newspaper, The Scout. Traveling and writing are my two passions, so I hope to combine those loves into one job once I graduate.

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