February 21, 2023

Influencing Isn't Dead, It's Just Changing: How #deinfluencing has shaken up the Industry

By John Livesey and Tom Molyneux 

It’s hard to trust influencers. We subscribe to their channels, like their videos, and buy into their lifestyle. But it is always with our cynicism intact, aware that their livelihood is based on pushing products onto their followers.

In recent events, beauty influencer Mikayla Nogueri pushed her community over the edge with a deceptive ad for L’oreal Telescopic lift mascara. So-called #Eyelashgate occured when the TikTok community noticed Mikayla had faked the mascara results with false eyelashes. 

Of course this kind of deception isn’t new. However, where beauty advertisements on TV are strictly regulated by the ASA, influencers are still working outside of the rules. The fact Mikayla’s video hasn’t been removed from the platform speaks volumes. 

The beauty community has since spoken initiating a viral trend of #deinfluencing. But how much will this trend truly change influencer marketing? Are we naive to think that a hashtag will end trend cycles that have existed for decades? Is it - as Eden Young from Polyester Zine writes - “just your opinion that you are now rebranding as something buzzwordy”

Defining ‘Deinfluencing’

Videos tagged with #deinfluencing currently have over 170 million views on TikTok. The viral trend aims to disrupt the influencer-economy, pushing back against the promotion of products particularly in the health and beauty market. 

The conventional format for a sponsored video features an influencer talking about their positive experience with a product. De-influencing videos, however, subvert that model. They seek to expose products that have been overhyped and underperformed.They detail where brands have fallen short or expose problematic ethical concerns.

As TikToker ‘sadgrlswag’ summarises in a video with over 57k likes, ‘Do not get the Ugg Minis. Do not get the Dyson Airwrap. Do not get the Charlotte Tilbury Wand. Do not get the Stanley Cup. Do not get Colleen Hoover’s books. Do not get the AirPods Pro Max’

If influencing is about personal endorsement, deinfluencing is a way of thinking critically about spending habits and evaluating the necessity of certain purchases. Influencing is a late-night impulse-buy; deinfluencing is sensibly requesting a refund.

How did we get here?

The root causes for the ‘deinfluencing’ trend are manifold.

Influencer marketing has become oversaturated. In a recent study, it was reported that 71 percent of marketing agencies, brands and influencers had increased the amount of content produced and shared within the last two years. Within the scramble to partner with influencers, considered strategy is often sacrificed. This creates a lack of authenticity in influencer posts: a major misstep for brands looking to engage Gen Z consumers, for whom authenticity is a key value. 

Gen Z are also a more environmentally conscious generation of consumers. Many of the ‘deinfluencer’ videos on TikTok are trying to be the voice of reason, highlighting the overconsumption that arises with internet hype. However, its hard to imagine that this trend will break down the structures of influence that exist not only on the internet, but have persisted in social spaces such as the school playground, office kitchen etc. When products go mainstream you not only buy into its quality, but it has come to signify; ‘coolness’, wealth, cultural awareness and so on. 

This is also coupled with declining faith in social media and a wariness about the promotion of seemingly unachievable beauty standards. Consumers aged 16 -25, who by 2030 will make up over 80% of the luxury market, like to think critically about digital wellness. They are less and less willing to engage with the hyper-transactional model and airbrushed image of influencer marketing. This is particularly true in an age where all consumers are tightening their purse-strings. Skyrocketing inflation rates make recommendations of £500 lip masques seem somewhat tone-deaf.

The End of the Influencer?

The deinfluencing trend represents the climax of anti-influencer marketing that has been brewing with TikTok’s pivot to pushing their shopping feature across the platform. Users have little patience for the hyper-transactional model and airbrushed image of influencer marketing

Some commentators, have understood #deinfluencing as the slow death of influencer marketing. But this misreads the trend. In the process of ‘exposing’ products, they are redirecting users to another recommendation. Even if it is for a more affordable product, this follow-up shows that there is still demand for the recommendation and endorsement model. What the trend really does is focus on the worth of the consumer. People have always relied on recommendations from people they trust, and this last point is key. 

The trend teaches us that brands can no longer simply throw a product in front of an influencer’s profile and expect engagement from their audience. Sponsorship without collaboration; endorsement without integrity; partnership without co-creation, just won’t cut it anymore.

Turning to Micro Influencers

Instead of abandoning the influencer model altogether, however, companies should be focusing their energy on developing a more sustainable relationship with influencers. This means working with individuals who reflect the brand vision, values and aesthetic. Authenticity is the endgame, and genuine product affinity is the method.

In this context, the concept of ‘micro influencers’ becomes essential. Micro influencers tend to have a smaller following: between 5k and 100k. However, these micro influencers make up for their smaller audience by generating high levels of engagement through trust. These are individuals who are embedded within certain communities and specialized fields and relate to their fans through a more organic and democratic approach.

Influencers haven’t expired but they are changing. Brands need to catch onto the demand for more meaningful, authentic and sustained interactions between their products and the talent they choose to promote it.