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Brief Published: 24 Aug 2021

#BamaRush: When Subcultures Go Viral


Recently, TikTok was flooded with clips from Rush Week at the University of Alabama, pushing sales uplift across lifestyle brands favoured by US sorority members. Demonstrating the platform's cross-community reach, the phenomenon reveals strategies for the future of fashion on TikTok.

Rush is when sororities receive hopeful potential new members (PNM) during a week of social recruitment events. Each round of this process has specific dress codes, so sharing (multiple) daily outfits on social media is part of freshmen's online life.

When Rush Week hit, TikTok's algorithms registered a surge of videos posted under the hashtag #bamarush by pretty women of college age. This triggered promotion onto the feeds of people beyond college communities, as well as reaction content through TikTok's Duet and Stitch formats from confused outsiders. This iterative content boosted the hashtag further still – prompting even more Alabama students to contribute. And this is how the #bamarush wave broke into the mainstream.

Global audiences followed the week's events like an impromptu reality TV show, and spurred e-commerce uplift for the favoured mentioned fashion brands of white southern college students – like US mid-market label LoveShackFancy, Texan jewellery brand Kendra Scott, and Alabama fast-fashion retailer Pants Store.

As we shared in our Pop Culture Round-Up Summer 2020, discoverability on TikTok's algorithms is determined by users' interests as demonstrated by their viewing habits, not the big influencers they follow. This means community moments like #BamaRush are not an opportunity for brands that don't already belong to hop on the bandwagon via a sponsored content deal.

To surface in this environment, marketers have to think long-term, identify specific niche groups that are relevant to them, and build consistent relationships with all community members. E.l.f. Cosmetics, for instance, elevated TikTok's Gen Z beauty collectives with a hashtagged reality competition show – see Real-Time Online Communities.

For more on how to activate commercial opportunities in 2021's online social subcultures, look out for next month's report on Social Media Commerce, 2021: Platforms, Rules & Opportunities.