By Mike Masnick
TikTok remains a somewhat fascinating service to me, as different people experiment with using it to express all sorts of things in ways that are unexpected and often delightful. A couple months ago I discovered that there appears to be an entire genre of TikTokers creating videos about… mixing paint colors. I know… I know. At first that sounds insane. Who could possibly want to watch that? But some of them are truly amazing, as first noted by reporter Rebecca Jennings who tweeted about her discovery of Christian Hull, an Australian TikToker whose videos of him watching paint mixing videos and trying to guess what color the eventual mix will be is just so insanely joyful and addicting.
this ones good bc of how many times he says “yillaaurr” pic.twitter.com/fdTPBTZtfs
— rebecca jennings (@rebexxxxa) September 29, 2020
Some people argued that the viral attention towards these paint mixing videos was due to people getting cabin fever from the never-ending pandemic, but I’d say it’s just one of those amazing internet oddities that have always gone viral on the internet since its earliest days. The ability to see this kind of actual, unfettered joy at something that seems so mundane, and which most people didn’t even think was exciting — only to discover that it’s very, very exciting.
Anyway, Hull wasn’t the only paint mixing TikToker out there. Another account, Tonester Paints (the user name of Tony Piloseno) worked at a Sherwin-Williams paint store in Ohio. He made a ton of paint mixing videos, including taking requests, and showing people how to make certain colors (with paints he purchased himself, which he then donates to Habitat for Humanity)). Again, the videos are surprisingly mesmerizing.
Piloseno says as his TikTok (and YouTube and Instagram) paint mixing videos got more and more attention, he thought that perhaps Sherwin-Williams would be interested in having him actually represent the brand in doing his paint mixing. He approached executives at the company’s headquarters (with the approval of his own manager) with a presentation about how to better use social media to gain attention. He never got the meeting, but instead the company fired him for “gross misconduct” in response to people calling the company in response to his videos.
He showed Buzzfeed his termination papers, which also said he was accused of “wasting properties [and] facilities” and “seriously embarass[ing] the Company or its products.” The company also provided a bizarre quote to Buzzfeed saying he was fired due to a customer complaint:
According to termination papers Piloseno provided to BuzzFeed News, the official offense the company handed down to him was “gross misconduct,” which included the offenses of “wasting properties [and] facilities,” and “seriously embarrass[ing] the Company or its products.”
Shortly after this story was published, the company spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that it was due to a “customer complaint” about Piloseno’s TikToks that it had terminated his employment.
Piloseno told BuzzFeed News he did admit to filming TikToks while he was already mixing paints for customers when he first started posting to his channel in December 2019. But, as his page grew, he committed to purchasing cans of paint with his employee discount.
“They first accused me of stealing — I told them I purchased all my paint,” he said. “They made me answer a bunch of questions like when I was doing this, where, if there was anyone in the store while I was doing [filming]. There was never anyone with me while I doing it.”
So, you could see how, at first, the company might be upset that some of his early videos involved filming the paint he was mixing for customers… but… also… why? He wasn’t revealing any private information of the customers. He was just filming the paint mixing process (which is, again, fascinating).
The Buzzfeed article notes that one reason why customers had called the company was in response to this video in which Piloseno mixed actual blueberries into paint to to color it blue:
That’s amazing. And I say that as someone who once got out of being fined for significant room damage to a college dorm by buying some white paint and mixing in nutmeg and cinnamon in varying amounts until it matched the dull beige of the existing paint job (it also smelled amazing).
The whole thing seems bizarre. Sherwin-Williams incredibly corporate response to all of this is just silly:
The company told BuzzFeed News on Wednesday that a “customer’s concerns” is what launched its investigation, and what ultimately led to its decision to let him go “due to multiple company policy violations.”
“While we don’t discuss the details of employee matters publicly, what I can tell you is that we were made aware of the TikTok videos produced by Anthony Piloseno through a customer complaint,” said Julie Young, the vice president of global corporate communications. “We take all complaints seriously and thoroughly investigated the customer’s concerns. Following the investigation, Mr. Piloseno was let go in July 2020 due to multiple Company policy violations.”
Piloseno is still making his paint mixing videos now. He’s just doing them in a friend’s basement where he’s built a studio, according to his recently launched GoFundMe campaign. Oh, and he told Buzzfeed that he’s not buying paints from Sherwin-Williams:
“I bought myself a light box. I bought some empty gallons at Lowe’s — I basically started shopping at Lowe’s afterward,” he added.
Not surprisingly, this is not reflecting at all well on Sherwin-Williams. In the responses to his TikTok explaining all of this (which shows a brief screenshot of the marketing presentation he made for the corporate execs) people seem quite reasonably ticked off at Sherwin-Williams for firing a guy who was actually making their paint cool. The comments in response to the video about Sherwin-Williams corporate (again, his own manager and the people at the store supported him), suggest that they not only screwed up a huge opportunity, but they’ve now actively turned people off of the brand:
There are nearly 20,000 comments on that video… and pretty much all of them are saying some variation of how badly Sherwin-Williams fucked this up, and how the company execs should be fired instead.
This is going to be a case study in how not to handle social media and going viral for big companies.