Until earlier this year, scrolling on social media meant being bombarded with any number of ring-lit influencers trying to convince you to buy something you most probably don't need with money you would probably be better off saving.
And then came a cost of living crisis and, with it the rise of the ‘deinfluencer’: a social media trend defined as influencers telling people not to buy things, highlighting overpriced products, and sharing money-saving tips. A genuine end to vapid consumerism or just some kind of influencer trickery to get us to spend in different ways?
"Generally, we see young people are rejecting the pressures and expectations perpetuated by social media and influencer culture," says Paul Greenwood, head of research & insight at We Are Social. "There has also been a rise in the popularity of ‘minimalism’ and the rejection of consumerism, with people opting for a simpler lifestyle that is less focused on material possessions and the images portrayed by influencers."
Gaining traction in Asia
While deinfluencing is still technically influencing but under a different name, it’s been dubbed the “anti-influencer” trend, which although started in the West as a response to the cost of living crisis, is quickly growing in popularity across Asia.
"Deinfluencing is a growing trend in APAC. This comes as no surprise as the #1 expectation of what brands must be among Asian youth is trustworthiness, amidst a climate of distrust and misinformation," says Shir Lee Akazawa, social media manager at Virtue APAC.
For example, on TikTok, there are a growing number of people “deinfluencing” Korean beauty (K-Beauty), with views reaching over 99 million, as users share their thoughts on overhyped products.
And in the last 30 days, according to TikTok hashtag analytics, #Deinfluencing gained traction in Indonesia (11M views) and Australia (8M views), with 2-3M views in countries like Philippines, Malaysia, and Thailand.
According to Acacia Leroy, head of trends & insights at Culture Group, while deinfluencing is not really a massive phenomenon in Asia yet, compared to the West, what does resonate in Asia is the fact that conventional influencers—those predominantly defined by a sizeable following and a curated feed of sponsored content—are losing relevance with consumers, as they are no longer seen as authentic or relatable.
"Consumers are gravitating more instead towards ‘nano influencers’—defined as digital creators with 1000 - 5000 followers," says Leroy. "Who are often building genuine communities with their followers, inspiring trust and loyalty, and as a result are more effective partners to marketers."
De-influencing or re-influencing?
According to Shir Lee Akazawa, social media manager at Virtue APAC, marketers and brands need to recognise the motivations driving deinfluencing—a desire for raw and real information from credible sources and pivot their influencer strategy accordingly.
"Rather than worrying about ‘de-influencing’, we should perhaps look at it like ‘re-influencing’," says Akazawa. "Opening up conversations and welcoming different perspectives from a range of credible sources to enable consumers to make informed purchases, instead of paying for blind product endorsements."
Ellie Hooper, account director at leading influencer marketing agency Goat, says that deinfluencing is a clear indication from consumers to the creator community that they want a return to the foundations of influencer marketing—credible and meaningful peer-to-peer recommendations above all else.
"Brands and marketers shouldn’t be scared of the trend, but instead should take it as a clear cultural warning sign that should be considered and responded to," says Hooper. "At Goat we shout that 99% of influencers won’t work for your brand. If a brand's partnership isn’t authentic, meaningful, and intentional, then don’t bother. It won’t do anything for the brand’s positioning on social media, let alone the performance that you’d anticipate from any output—and worst of all, could result in backlash for the world to see."
Is deinfluencing feeding the shift towards conscious consumerism?
According to Check Ins at Check Outs - Vice Media Group Retail Report 2022, young people are checking in with themselves before checking out with a purchase—77% of young people are asking themselves, “Do I really need this?” before making a purchase; 45% of young people in APAC describe their shopping as slow-consumption.
"Social media is key to enabling this new purchasing behaviour, helping young people cut through BS with real reviews by real people, and/or find brands they want to support by providing direct access to a diversity of individual creators," says Akazawa.
Olivia Plotnick, founder of Wai Social, a boutique social media marketing agency based out of Shanghai, says that deinfluencing can be seen as a part of the shift towards conscious consumerism, particularly among younger consumers.
"It’s also important to note that this conscious consumerism trend isn’t something that happens ‘top-down’ from influencers to regular consumers. Chinese netizens are characteristically direct and emotional in expressing their "deinfluencing" views on social media," says Plotnick. "Negative comments may appear on any brand account’s comment area, and the traction generated by this may have an even greater impact than that of an influencer."
Plotnick cites the example that if you were to go on Chinese social media platform RED and search the keyword “踩雷”(step on a bomb), it will display many results of bad reviews on all kinds of products and brands.
"Deinfluencing is also connected to the rise in younger consumers looking for better-quality products," adds Plotnick. "Consumers who prioritise conscious consumption tend to place more value on the quality, authenticity, and transparency of the products they purchase. They are willing to pay a premium for products that align with their values."
Roana Brito, group strategy director at R/GA, says that deinfluencing is a response to people's growing fatigue with excessive consumerism and false claims. It aligns with the shift towards conscious consumerism.
"Younger consumers are now more likely to research a product's authenticity and credibility before making a purchase," says Brito. "The uncertain economic climate has forced people to tighten their purse strings, leading them to look for smarter ways to spend their money. Brands and marketers must be transparent and honest in their messaging to appeal to these conscious consumers."
Will some brands benefit more from ‘deinfluencing’ than others?
There's no question that deinfluencing has already had an impact on brands across the board, particularly in highly competitive categories that are increasingly driven by efficacy, such as beauty or technology.
One example, often cited as a catalyst for deinfluencing was the uproar over whether beauty influencer Mikayla Nogueira was using fake eyelashes in a video made in collaboration with L'Oréal to advertise its mascara.
But the growing trend has been far from limited to just competitive categories like beauty.
"Interestingly, categories that have been historically motivated by aspiration such as travel or luxury fashion are also increasingly affected by deinfluencing," says Akawaza. "Whether it is the calling out of Instagram travel influencers who have been clearly sponsored by hotels or travel operators, or TikTok accounts that painfully scrutinise every detail of a luxury product to question the exorbitant prices of these goods."
The 'dupe' trend is another one that fits into the broader deinfluencing narrative, which saw spike in earlier this year on TikTok and Instagram. The dupe trend is when creators share videos of a high-end product alongside a cheaper or more affordable version (the dupe) that could be used to achieve a similar look or effect.
"So discounter brands with similar products to high end versions should be in prime position to take advantage of this shift," says We Are Social's Paul Greenwood. "Although the product itself will have to be of decent quality."
It's clear that some brands may benefit more from de-influencing than others.
"Brands that have behaved in less than ethical ways need to be cautious, as they will be the ones who will suffer the most repercussions," says Brito. "However, they can own up to their mistakes and make amends. Consumers tend to be forgiving towards brands that are self-aware and take responsibility for their actions, as long as they follow through with actual change."
Hooper at Goat Agency says that with any trend, there will always be some brands that win more than others, "but the overarching message to all should be that credible and true recommendations and thus authentic partnership reign supreme."
Will deinfluencing be the trend to kill influencer marketing?
Greewnood at We Are Social says that while the broader deinfluencing trend will most likely stick around as long as the economic outlook remains tight, he can't see influencer marketing dying a death anytime soon.
"I can see influencers evolving and adapting. They’ve been very good at that in the past—having had their value called into question pre-pandemic – quickly rebranding to creators – and then having to diversify their offering during the pandemic and now changing in the face of the cost of living crisis," says Greenwood. "They’re the chameleons of social media marketing and will be around for a long time to come."
And Hooper at Goat Agency says deinfluencing feels like a consumer-led demand for a reset.
"I see it as a natural course correction as we’ve moved too close to the sun on consumerism and inauthentic partnerships," says Hooper. "I think we’ve already seen the impact of the trend and the support it’s received, so I’d like to believe it’s left its mark. For brands, it’s done the job of reminding them that they need to be more considered in their approach to promotion. For consumers, it encourages them to take a step back and reimagine their approach to consumerism. And for influencers, it’s a sign to adopt a more authentic stance on their partnerships in a bid to ensure followers trust their recommendations."
But despite its widespread prevalence in culture, it doesn't look as though ‘deinfluencing’ will kill influencer marketing anytime soon. As much as influencers have become a dirty word in some circles, it is here to stay – the influencer marketing industry reached $16.4 billion in 2022, as compared to $13.8 billion in 2021, and is projected to further grow this year.
"Deinfluencing’ will compel influencer marketing to evolve and take on a more sustained role in the marketing mix," says Akazawa. "While there is still a role for big name mega influencers to lend their star power and prestige to brands, brands need to create a cohesive influencer mix to drive a holistic outcome, as trust shifts from individual personalities to collectives and communities."