What started as one lawyer’s advice about reading the fine print has become a TikTok meme format with a catchphrase that has inspired countless parodies.
The lawyer, Erika Kullberg, has been posting content about consumer and employee rights since early last month. From using companies’ terms-and-conditions agreements to lower bills to citing employee protection laws to negotiating for severance packages, Kullberg’s skits often use the now-viral phrase “They don’t know that I know.”
The hashtag “#ThanksErika,” a tag often used on parody videos to thank Kullberg for her advice, has more than 2.4 million views on the app, and in the month since she began posting, she has gained 3.9 million followers.
In a video with 44.1 million views, Kullberg’s first character asks Nike for a new pair of shoes because hers has a tear. Nike, played by Kullberg in a different shirt, declines her request because it has been more than 60 days since she bought the shoes.
“She has no idea I know,” Kullberg whispers in an aside to the viewer. “Watch this.”
Kullberg’s first character turns back to Nike and explains that she’s not trying to return the shoes. Under Nike’s terms, she says, if the damage occurs less than two years from the shoe’s manufacture date, it’s covered under a warranty that guarantees the buyer a new pair or a gift card of equal value.
“Who taught you this?” the exasperated Nike responds.
“Erika did!” Kullberg’s first character says. “She’s a lawyer and reads the fine print so I don’t have to.”
Kullberg founded Plug and Law, a startup that drafts legal agreements like privacy policies and disclaimers for other small companies that may not have legal departments of their own. She began posting on TikTok as part of a bet with friends, in which she agreed to post a video every day for six months. She wants her content to encourage viewers to read the fine print and understand what they’re agreeing to when they sign seemingly mundane documents like terms-and-conditions agreements.
“As a consumer, it’s always good to be aware of what the policies are and what you’re entitled to,” Kullberg said. “My whole goal with personal finance is just educating people about their money, how to make money, how to save money [and] how to make your money work for you. And these little hacks are one of the ways to do it to get the most for your money.”
Kullberg’s videos consistently garner millions of views, and her video format went viral because of how easy the formula is to replicate.
Her formula typically includes someone faced with a social obstacle, the whisper to the viewer and then a “gotcha” quip that ensures that the person gets what they want.
Other TikTok users started parodying her format this month, but instead of offering sensible advice or smart hacks, they suggest doing something wildly inappropriate or unsafe.
In a skit that has been viewed 789,000 times, Georgia Daniels confronts “creepy guys at the gym” who are taking photos of her without her consent. She whispers to the audience, “They don’t know that I know this,” before she informs the men that she owns a gun.
In a less extreme interpretation of the trend with 370,800 views, creator whyfelipewhy jokes that he’s too socially awkward and afraid of confrontation to put Kullberg’s advice to use in real life.
“Most of these parody videos, most of them are completely bogus,” Kullberg said. “They’re not real life hacks. And I think that’s kind of what makes them so funny. ... I hope people don’t take most of them seriously.”
Riky Galvin, 19, saw Kullberg’s videos popping up for days before he decided to create his own version.
“I only saw one [other parody video] and immediately I knew I wanted to kind of put my twist into it and make my own video,” Galvin said.
In one of his TikTok posts, Galvin jokes that he was able to gain access to heaven, despite being gay, because he shared a meme of Jesus on Facebook in 2011.
“Who told you about this, anyway?” an angel asks Galvin in the parody.
“My friend Erika,” Galvin replies.
“I only saw one [other parody video] and immediately I knew I wanted to kind of put my twist into it and make my own video."
Kullberg has let creators know that she enjoys the parodies. She commented on Galvin’s heaven parody: “THIS is a literal MASTERPIECE!! So glad my hack worked for you.”
Galvin said Kullberg’s good sense of humor has made posting the “ThanksErika” videos all the more fun.
“I really do enjoy that she likes them, and I think she knows no one actually means anything. It’s all just great fun, and she knows that,” he said. “I love that she’s in on it with us.”
Some of the parodies have also given Kullberg ideas for other topics to address.
Following a flood of TikTok viewers joking about their poor mental health in some of the parody videos, Kullberg made a video about requesting mental health breaks from work.
Employees can take short-term disability leave, she says in a video posted Monday, and depending on the state, they can still receive their partial to full salaries. Kullberg then walks viewers through the process of requesting leave.
Kullberg said that the video had been in her drafts folder “for a while” and that although her videos focus on “hacks,” her overall goal is to teach others about the lesser-known aspects of personal finance — like short-term disability leave.
“Whether it’s consumer ‘hacks’ or employee rights, there are so many things that aren’t common knowledge."
“Whether it’s consumer ‘hacks’ or employee rights, there are so many things that aren’t common knowledge,” Kullberg said. “Most people who take disability leave for mental health are not comfortable talking about it, so I wanted to try to raise awareness that this is a potential option.”
And while her followers also enjoy the parodies, many find Kullberg’s advice helpful, too.
“I love all of the recreations of your video but you genuinely do help ppl and we all appreciate you,” TikTok user mazzystargirl commented.
“I’m trying my best!” Kullberg responded. “And I love the recreations too.”