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A student's viral TikTok got their influencer marketing class final cancelled

The TikTok logo is seen on a mobile phone in front of a computer screen which displays the TikTok home screen. (Michael Dwyer/AP)
The TikTok logo is seen on a mobile phone in front of a computer screen which displays the TikTok home screen. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

Matthew Prince teaches influencer marketing at Chapman University. On the first day of class, he gave his students a challenge: If any student made a TikTok that garnered 1 million views, Prince would cancel the final.

One student, 21-year-old Sylvie Bastardo, completed the challenge immediately.

“I took a video immediately as the challenge was presented in class and it ended up being a good video,” she says. “So I decided to post it to TikTok and added a quick song behind it that had been trending just to give it a shot.”

Bastardo set the six-second video to a sped-up version of “Bad Hair Day” from New Zealand, a viral song on the app. The video starts with a shot of Prince and his challenge on a screen at the front of the class. Bastardo then swings her iPhone to the girl next to her who’s making a face.

Within 24 hours, the video had hit 1 million. Prince made his own TikTok in response, officially canceling the final.

“I made my point just to showcase the power of influence and social,” he said in the video. You don’t have to be a celebrity to drive it, and I don’t have to grade a final.”

A screenshot of Sylvie Bastardo’s viral TikTok that got her marketing final cancelled.

What seems like just a student completing a class assignment may be a cautionary tale about teaching in the age of social media.

Prince, who is also a public relations executive for Taco Bell, had planned for the challenge to take all semester. He wanted to make his own TikTok with the stakes that if his went viral first, he would add one assignment to the syllabus. He also planned to assess students’ videos as time went on and improve them throughout the semester.

“We could work on the project together: what was working, what wasn’t working,” Prince says. “Kind of make an educational process throughout the course of the semester.”

But because the algorithm picked up Bastardo’s video, he never got the chance. It happened so fast that Bastardo herself didn’t even realize what was happening at first.

“My friend in the class was texting me, my parents were texting me being like, ‘what are you doing?’” Bastardo says. “This is going viral. This is crazy.”

Prince found out about it through his colleagues at Taco Bell who had seen it on their TikTok For You page.

Even though the project didn’t go as planned, Prince says there are still some valuable lessons to be learned, like about the power of algorithms on social media. Prince says it’s not unlike other facets of marketing

“I remember a saying that I heard when I first started in my career was, you can love something or you can hate something but just don’t be indifferent about it,” he says. “Everyone’s going to have an opinion on a lot of things, especially when it involves TikTok.”

It also reveals the generational gap between Prince, a young professor, and his college-age students. Most of his students knew how fast something could take off on TikTok, but he just had not considered the possibility that his semester-long project could be over in 24 hours. Bastardo still attributes the video’s success to algorithmic luck.

In an age where the U.S. government is growing suspicious about TikTok and its roots in China, both Prince and Bastardo say the app holds significant value.

“Gen Z is not getting their news from the dot-coms, they’re getting their news from TikTok, from their For You page and from other people who are sharing their information,” Prince says. “It’s for fun and it’s for positive storytelling and it’s for spreading awareness, understanding, and gaining education. And I think if you focus on those pieces, it really is actually a special place.”

Katherine Swartz produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Robin Young. Julia Corcoran adapted it for the web.

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