Maybe Leave ‘That Balloon Girl’ Alone?
Small business TikTok is a normally playful and supportive place. It’s where creators like Fatini Zamri found success with her hijab “pinrings” business, LushPins. However, it seems the recent HairByChrissy drama ignited a taste for blood, and Kelsey Onstott is users’ latest target.
Onstott, who runs the Texas-based balloon installation business That Balloon Girl, had been documenting her creations on TikTok when followers took issue with her pricing.
“I’ve received a lot of really weird comments about my pricing in general,” she narrates her most recent video, which shows her building a giant “H” out of blue balloons. “Especially the balloon mosaics, someone commented, ‘That takes less than 30 minutes to make and you can get balloons from Party City for five dollars.’”
Custom color 5ft balloon mosaic $300 - if you can go to party city and spend $5 on balloons and replicate this please duet me- thanks #fyp♬ Taste It - Ikson
So Onstott challenged anyone watching the video to do just that. That was her mistake. Looking for any activity to help pass time during the pandemic, TikTok users rose to the occasion and quickly proved that they could replicate one of Onstott’s $300 mosaics for around $50 using supplies from stores like Dollar Tree.
But it didn’t end there. Others did the math based on the cost of what they believed to be Onstott’s actual supplies, and when the total came to around $120, it further fueled their fury.
For posterity, let’s take a look at Onstott’s actual process. According to the That Balloon Girl website, her prices look like this:
Balloon Installation (small scale): $500-$800
Balloon Installation (medium scale): $800-$1,500
Balloon Installation (larger scale): $1,500+
That’s a serious chunk of money, but Onstott says on her site that she uses high quality latex and mylar foil balloons that are then “coated with a glue that extends the life of the balloon from 18-48 hours, sometimes even multiple days.” Then, of course, there’s the labor and Onstott’s own design work. The prices, while high, are for more than just supplies, and without some kind of profit, her business could not exist.
I could understand this level of reaction if Onstott was charging insane prices for food, medicine, or housing, but these are balloons. You buy them for the background of your Instagram photos or, in the case of gender reveals, literally pop them shortly after purchase. The addictiveness of the saga is probably owed to the innocuous nature of the product and the fact that someone with $300-$1,500 to spare is likely a …. certain type of person. If you don’t have that money to spare but want to celebrate similarly, it’s now clear that cheaper options exist, but oddly, the controversy has seemingly turned so many normally capitalist-hating Gen Z users into little versions of Jeff Bezos.
Finding ways to undercut and one-up a business so a consumer can get a product cheaper and faster is right out of the Amazon playbook. Over the weekend, there was widespread backlash to Amazon Prime day, which prompted bookstores to put up installations calling out Amazon for hurting their business during the pandemic. Amazon sells balloon sculptures, too—for $14.
Onstott did not respond to a request for comment about the situation, and hasn’t posted a video on TikTok since her infamous challenge.