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Do TikTok's 'deinfluencers' really want us to consume less?

Manasi Gopalakrishnan
March 1, 2023

The #deinfluencing trend on Tiktok has people telling you to stop using too much stuff. But is this just another way for influencers to get more attention — and money?

Woman with natural nude make-up with cosmetic tools in hands.
Deinfluencers question their behavior as consumers, but some products might remain 'essential'Image: Nikita Kobrin/PantherMedia/IMAGO

"You don't need an iced coffee to be productive. You don't need to style your hair to go out in public, you don't need to choose only between gold and silver jewelry … but most importantly, you don't need to feel bad if you've done this."

The words of advice come from Chloe, posting under @chloe.chapdelaine, in a recent TikTok video. The influencer has nearly 360,000 followers and makes videos about her life in Canada, her travels and of course, the products she uses while undertaking her different life projects.

Lately, however, Chloe seems to have had a change of heart: "I know that I am a victim of overconsumption," she says, while a caption in her video reads, "We currently live in a society where nearly everything is designed and marketed to influence you to buy it."

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The 'deinfluencing' trend

Buying less stuff sounds like sane advice. It's what deinfluencers like Chloe are promoting these days on TikTok.

They aim to be the opposite of influencers, who in terms of marketing, are seen as people having the necessary credibility to influence potential consumers to buy certain products by recommending them on social media.

There are different approaches among deinfluencers. Some condemn consumerism completely; others evaluate products, suggesting cheaper or better alternatives. Other deinfluencers give advice on how to save money or find genuine happiness.

#Deinfluencing is now a trend that has over 263 million views on TikTok.

As the various hashtags related to the trend indicate — such as #deinfluencingproducts, #deinfluencingmakeup, #deinfluencinghair, #deinfluencingbotox — beauty products remain a soft spot for many deinfluencers.

Other popular hashtags include #deinfluencingbooks  and #deinfluencinginfluencing, which has former influencers regretting their lives as brand marketers and looking for a genuine occupation.

More 'authenticity' to connect with fans

"Authenticity is an essential means of how content creators connect with their fans on TikTok," says Marina Mansour, vice president and founding member of Kyra, a global content creation and marketing company.

#Deinfluencing, she tells DW, is "a response from fans around creators promoting products where there wasn't the honest advocacy and transparency that the platform is so celebrated for. This sentiment galvanized and turned into the #deinfluencing trend."

A woman with light brown skin touches the frame of her pink sunglasses
Marina Mansour is vice president of Kyra, a content creation and marketing companyImage: privat

Matt Perry, co-founder and CEO of marketing firm The Future Collective, says the same thing in a recent post he wrote on LinkedIn about the deinfluencer trend: "The age of the deinfluencer is gathering huge momentum right now as TikTok users are finally starting to place authenticity over consumerism."

Indeed, many creators, like Chloe, are now seeking a genuine connection with their followers, admitting they were victims of consumer products that promised them a whole new life, and are now changing their ways. "Moving forward, let's be grateful for what we have," she says.

Michelle @Michelleskidelsky, for example, is also extremely transparent and tells her followers she's been spending a lot. "If you're anything like me, you feel fear every time you check your bank account. And that is f***ed up," she says in her TikTok series, called "Deinfluencing things you DO NOT NEED." She goes on to list a number of products that one should not buy, including a hairdryer that costs $700 (approx. 660 euros), expensive probiotic capsules and food supplements.

Deinfluencing or joining the trend?

However, social media influencers cannot completely let go of marketing for products altogether, considering that many earn money from their TikTok channels.

According to Marina Mansour, vice president of Kyra, there are different options for content creators on TikTok. Many of them work with brands to generate income, but also with programs such as TikTok Shop, which lets companies display and directly sell their products on the video-sharing platform. Other sources of income include revenue-share initiatives or TikTok's creator fund, which helps support creators in the platform. "Creators can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars a month on TikTok, depending on their following size, engagement and quality of content," Mansour says.

Thus, most deinfluencers use a combination of telling users which products not to buy and also giving them a list of alternatives. Maja, for example, who goes by the username @self.skin, says she's in the medical profession. She tells her followers which skin care products are not worth the hype or the cost and which they could use instead. Valeria @valeriafride also tests beauty products and offers viewers alternatives.

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But how genuine is a deinfluencer? Joining a trend like #deinfluencing can boost views, follower numbers as well as the amount of money an influencer earns — a fact that generates some skepticism about the real motives behind influencers joining the hashtag.

"There is definitely an element of engaging with trending topics that means creators are incentivized to contribute to a topic because it's popular and newsworthy," Mansour says.

Content creators need to stay relevant by addressing trending themes, points out Mansour: "Whether that is because they genuinely feel like we are in time of overconsumption or they're using the #deinfluencing momentum to talk about products that don't suit them personally, is a case by case," she adds.

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Some market experts, like Matt Perry of the Future Collective, believe that #deinfluencing could be a complete game-changer. 

His analysis spells doom for the influencer business altogether: "The same thing happened on YouTube and Instagram. Influencer marketing is dying," he writes on LinkedIn, adding that in the future, brands will have to focus more on creating genuine relationships with consumers and using that to further sales.

Edited by: Elizabeth Grenier

Manasi Gopalakrishnan
Manasi Gopalakrishnan Journalist and editor from India, compulsive reader of books.