Be honest, how often does your social media scrolling lead to shopping? And how many of those things that TikTok made you buy did you actually need? Enter de-influencing, the latest TikTok trend flipping influencing on its head — and aiming to save our bank balances in the process.
There's been an influx of TikTok beauty mishaps of late that have fuelled a growing frustration at users promoting products online that are misleading or, to put it bluntly, inconsiderate in light of the ongoing cost of living crisis. Take, for example, the recent "mascara gate" debacle. US-based influencer Mikayla Nogueira posted a TikTok using the L'Oréal Telescopic Lash Lift Mascara, but was accused of using false eyelashes to review the product as part of a paid partnership. Nogueira or L'Oréal have not commented on the post. Tarte Cosmetics was also recently criticised for treating influencers to a lavish, all-expenses paid trip to Dubai which sparked debate among fans as the sponsored posts felt unrelateable to many.
As a result, social media users have taken it upon themselves to rebel against the wave of mass consumption in a bid to reclaim control over their feeds. But what actually is de-influencing, how is it different to influencing, and will it last? We ask a content creator and marketing expert to break it down.
What Is De-influencing?
De-influencing is the TikTok trend with more than 101.3 million views that's challenging the hype around so-called cult products by telling you what you shouldn't buy, instead of what you should. It's a response to a few different things, including a general feeling of over-consumption (you don't need more stuff just because TikTok says you do) and the cost of living crisis (unboxing a designer bag doesn't sit so well when your viewers can't pay their bills).
"[I]t has become harder to tell the genuine reviews from those influenced by the potential for earning."
"People are experiencing a general social media fatigue at the moment," says make-up artist and beauty content creator, Rose Gallagher. "Originally, user-generated content was so popular because people tended to share thoughts on things that they had purchased themselves with no real connection to the brand. Now, with so much to be gained from giving a rave review, it has become harder to tell the genuine reviews from those influenced by the potential for earning."
This isn't the first time there's been a backlash against promotional content. "I think de-influencing is in some ways similar to when '90s magazine editors started to editorialise content and not always write about their advertisers," explains CEO of the British Beauty Council and Co-founder of PR agency Branstand Communications, Millie Kendall. "Content creators with integrity, whether that's magazine editors or influencers, will always try to set their content apart from what they deem to be lacking in honesty. I think it's important because it sets a level playing field for brands that can't afford to convince someone to feature their content without paying for the privilege."
How Is De-influencing Different to Influencing?
It sounds progressive, but once you scratch the surface, there isn't a huge difference between influencing and de-influencing. "De-influencing is a bit of a false commodity," says Kendall. "It's still influence but it's telling people what not to buy." While TikTokers may be warning consumers away from expensive or well-known products, some continue to influence by telling consumers what they should buy instead. For example, buying a heated roller set on Amazon over the Dyson Airwrap. This is still suggesting products with sweeping promises.
Cynically speaking, de-influencing is a good strategy for influencers and brands. Rising living costs mean consumers are less likely to splash out on big-ticket items, which means the influencers promoting them are less likely to generate affiliate revenue in this way. Pivoting to promoting cheaper products plays into the so-called "Lipstick Effect", where people treat themselves to little luxuries, instead of expensive splurges, during times of economic uncertainty.
Being honest and authentic has the potential to pay off, too. While criticising big brands may reduce an influencer's chances of landing a new brand deal in the short term, it also may increase their long-term reach as they gain a reputation for being trustworthy. Sparking debates over whether a product works or not can also drive sales for brands, as consumers respond by wanting to try it for themselves. It is also important to remember that not all influencers are financially stable enough to be immune to rocketing bills either, and will need to adapt their content to these changing and challenging times.
What is different about de-influencing is encouraging consumers to take a moment to think about whether they need a product, and whether it's right for them, versus whether they're simply being influenced because it's new, popular, or exciting. This is part of a bigger movement in beauty. "There is also the paring back of regimes, the ingredient diet, the skin minimalism, and the stripping back of excess linked to sustainability and over-consumption," explains Kendall. "I think this is a positive approach to marketing."
Will De-influencing Last?
So is de-influencing the future of influencing? "Whenever a trend begins online, everyone wants to add their take to it," explains Gallagher. "I think de-influencing is a great thing and will definitely have its moment, but I can't see it having longevity. Once the next product goes viral, everyone will want to share their views on that and de-influencing will be yesterday's news."
""I would like to see people making better choices and not buying excess products because it's not good for the environment"
But the message of de-influencing could make consumers more mindful of their purchases. "I would like to see people making better choices and not buying excess products because it's not good for the environment, but I'm not sure de-influencing in its current guise will work," says Kendall. "It will inevitably become a tactic for selling some products over others. This isn't packed with integrity, it's actually the opposite."
Whether de-influencing is a long-term movement, a knee-jerk reaction to current events, or a passing trend, it does put the focus back on the importance of authenticity online. You are in control of who you follow, who you trust, and what you buy. Think twice about whether a review is genuine, judging on things like the influencer's previous partnerships and if it feels aligned with their usual tastes and interests. And take a beat to think if you really need it before hopping on the bandwagon.