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Creating the Viral “What Bagel Are You” TikTok Filter

Update: Some notable omissions from this story happened after it was published, like being named one of PopSugar’s 20 Best TikTok Filters of 2022, an incredible parody, a “what’s the point of living if I don’t know what bagel I am” TikTok trend, and I appear to have made Sussex Skylands proud!

Also, in the two weeks since this was published, it has tacked on an additional 17 million views and 2 million more likes. I’m completely humbled.

Does getting 65 million views and 9.4 million likes in 4 weeks count as going viral? Because if so, I guess I went viral this year!

Here’s a quick TL;DR takeaway:

141,000 people around the world used my “What Bagel Are You? TikTok filter, generating 8.5 million likes and I want to try this with you and your ideas, too.

Like the rest of the world, I joined TikTok mid-pandemic as a way to prove to my wife that I wouldn’t enjoy the app. She had been trying to coax me to join under the guise of “you’ll like it. I know you!” And of course, as wives often are, she was right.

The 2 Old 4 TikTok podcast features a segment about the What Bagel Are You filter on their February 17, 2022 episode.

Jump to late 2021 when TikTok announced a waitlist to join Effect House, their first foray into community-generated effects and filters. You’ve seen them for years on Snapchat and Instagram, and I’ve published some fun ones across both of those networks, so this felt like a natural progression for me to request to join. Not long after, I had been accepted, onboarded, and working toward publishing my first TikTok effect.

To start, I dabbled with some old ideas that I never quite published on Instagram, then dipped my toe into effects creation on TikTok by referencing a few trends. But what really proved the value of TikTok as an effects creation platform was what came next: “What Bagel Are You?

At its most basic, it’s pretty simple: a sticker that’s pinned to the user’s forehead that references a small database of slightly modified stock photos of bagels that I pulled from various places on the internet. After five seconds, it stops on a random choice and voila, that’s your bagel. Piece of cake.

So when I tell you that songs were made about this thing, podcasts segments were devoted to it, TikTok marketing gurus were telling people to use it, and celebrities like Joe Jonas, Rebecca Black, and Hank Green were all using it… would you believe it?

Joe Jonas, Rebecca Black, and Hank Green using the What Bagel Are You filter on TikTok.

Let’s jump back to Instagram for a second. In the 2 years that I’ve been publishing effects to Instagram, I’ve seen some modest success. Thanks to some collaborations with TikTok creator Mr. Hamilton and Twitch partner Chris Melberger, my effects have seen a modest amount of reach: about 100k all time views across any Instagram posts or stories published with those filters. I recognize that’s no small accomplishment.

Remember that bagel effect on TikTok? At the time this was written, “What bagel are you” had been live on TikTok for 3 and a half weeks. Here are its stats:

  • 59 million views

  • 141 thousand posts

  • 3.7 million plays

  • 8.5 million likes

  • 206 thousand shares

A quick glossary:

  • A view is anyone who has seen the filter, period.

  • A post is a public post made anywhere in the world that included this filter natively (as opposed to a re-upload, where TikTok wouldn’t be able to tell that a video contained my filter)

  • A play is counted when the filter is opened

  • Likes are counted across every public video published that included this filter

  • A share is counted when a video containing the effect was shared

“Okay,” you might say. “So you had one effect go viral. That could happen to anyone.” Yep, you’d be right if you said that. But those numbers don’t include the other effects I’ve published in the one month that I’ve been creating these for TikTok.

Like my Green Eyes effect, a grassroots campaign dreamed up by Dave Bunting from King Killer Studios that referenced an ongoing meme about a Calvero song with a lyric that sounds vaguely like “Hank Green eyes making me confused”. That saw a reach of 4.6 million view on just 6300 posts.

The “What Ice Cream Are You” filter on TikTok

Or my newest effect, “What Ice Cream Are You?,” the sequel to the bagel effect, which is slowly beginning to pick up steam with just shy of 400 thousand views on almost 2500 posts in just over a week.

So while What Bagel Are You definitely contributed to a lot of this, compare the reach of those Instagram effects I mentioned before. In two years of publishing to Instagram, I didn’t even crack one third of the reach that I saw on TikTok from one filter in one week. Let that sink in.

This is in part due to TikTok’s absolute domination over the social media space right now. That’s an obvious draw. But you can’t rule out their intentional features, like a clever effects tray that incentivizes users to try trending effects, effects suggestions that highlight newly published effects, effects search, and collection pages where you can see other people using them.

I also want to acknowledge that yes, my business is called Dan Schenker Photography, but I’ve always used it as an umbrella for any creative outlets: all sorts of photography, videography, virtual tours, AI photo editing and image manipulation, and more. So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that I’ve found a way to work creative endeavors like AR effects and music into my business.

If you made it this far, you’re probably either a very good friend, or interested in the business side of things: is an AR effect about bagels a viable marketing angle for a brand? The short answer is “probably.”

The “What Bagel Are You” TikTok filter was used in over 102k posts in the US and 141k posts globally in 3 and a half weeks of being publicly available.

I think viability depends on a brand’s willingness to explore creative new angles. Sure, they’d need to work with an artist or someone who has access to Effect House to conceptualize a filter, but the real exposure and brand awareness would come from how that filter gets used. Creating it is just the first step.

All that said, I want to push the boundaries of traditional marketing and keep at this. I want to keep collaborating with friends, musicians, and brands and learn more about the real potential reach of a platform like this. TikTok Effect House still isn’t open to the public, and I can’t imagine what these numbers will look like with even more promotion and focus.

Let’s work on something fun together! We can connect here.