Spend five minutes on social media these days, and it’s hard not to be bombarded with a “miracle” no-fuss cleaning formula that changed someone’s life, a mouth-watering burger at that new Instagrammable café you absolutely must try, or the latest foundation that’ll give you dolphin skin (and if you don’t know what that is yet, watch this video!).
It feels like wading through an endless sea of product recommendations, both from celebrities in glossy ads and, increasingly, random people who happen to have better skin than mine. And I know it’s not just me.
In 2022, the global influencer market was worth 16.4 billion USD. That’s more than double what it was in 2019, and it’s only set to grow even more. The launch of the TikTok Shop has seen to that. With it, brands can sell products directly on the For You page and during live streams, while social media creators can earn a small commission whenever someone buys something they recommend.
But in a platform that’s catering more and more to fast-paced buying and selling, a new type of creator is trying to cut through the noise of overconsumption: the de-influencer.
What Is a De-influencer?
In a nutshell, de-influencers are content creators telling you what not to buy. “Let me de-influence you,” a self-proclaimed de-influencer might say, before telling you about products that aren’t worth the hype — or your hard-earned money.
The trend of de-influencing started sometime in January, with one of the first de-influencers being a former Ulta and Sephora employee who listed products that customers frequently returned. From beauty, the trend then spread to other spheres of influence on TikTok, like gamers, home decorators, and book influencers.
As I type this, the hashtag #deinfluencing has 256.6 million views.
The Rise of De-influencers
At first glance, de-influencers are a breath of fresh air from an environment that encourages you to buy, buy, buy.
With the rise of platform-based shopping, brands and influencers are working tirelessly to push the latest products to your feed and into your shopping cart: a symbiotic relationship involving perceived authenticity and anywhere from 200 to 20,000 USD for each piece of branded content.
It’s also a stark contrast to prior hashtag-based trends like #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt, which currently has 43.9 billion views.
Part of the rise of de-influencers can be linked to today’s economic climate. With rising inflation and a looming global recession, more and more people are reassessing what they spend their money on — and why.
Though most people still trust influencers over celebrities, we’re also beginning to hear from regular people who regret buying products that influencers promised would change their lives. And if you’re cutting corners because of the rising prices of, well, basically everything, then it makes sense to question why you’re being told to buy that fourth or fifth shade of blush on TikTok.
That brings me to what I think is the second major reason behind the rise of de-influencers: a growing concern for the environment.
Most cosmetic products are good to last for two years, but it’s hard to imagine being able to use up a whole pan of blush in that time if you have five different shades of it to rotate in your makeup regimen. The same goes for liquid foundations, mascara, and eyeliner products constantly being pushed onto people’s feeds and online shopping carts.
It’s also true for fashion, another product category that’s especially popular on TikTok. It’s an industry responsible for 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions — more than the aviation and shipping industries combined. And fashion marketing has changed the way we shop: The average person now buys 60% more clothes than they did in 2000, while replacing each item twice as fast.
For Gen Z, a generation whose purchases are influenced the most by TikTok, this creates a bit of a disconnect. Though young people often take climate change seriously and demand action to address it, we’re also a major market segment for fast fashion brands.
(To be fair, young people have also had to struggle through major global events, like the 2008 recession and the COVID-19 pandemic, which push us towards frugality and cheaper things.)
In this way, we can see the rise of de-influencers as a rejection of overconsumption — albeit one that is far from perfect (more on this later).
Lastly, TikTok de-influencers are also a reaction to TikTok itself, and how it’s changed in the past few years.
In the beginning, TikTok was a silly little platform for lip-syncing, dancing, and funny — if, at times, odd — videos. There was no pressure to look Instagram perfect; it wasn’t full of older family members like Facebook was; and it was visually more engaging than Twitter. Brands didn’t know what to make of the unseriousness of it.
But there was money to be made in a growing community of engaged content creators and viewers, and so companies were quick to adjust. Soon, brands began investing in TikTok creators, and the platform naturally welcomed them and their ads.
By November 2022, the platform launched the TikTok Shop, which allowed for the buying and selling of goods directly on the app, without having to go through a third-party retail site. This opened potential income streams not just to brands and established influencers, but also to the everyday creator, who can earn commissions if they join the platform’s affiliate marketing program.
As a natural consequence, more people are making videos of products you absolutely must buy. Suddenly, it’s become normal to say extreme things like “I’m OBSESSED with [insert product here],” or “[Insert product here] changed my entire life!”
There’s even a small subset of aspirational lifestyle creators teaching even more people to do it, promising easy money on TikTok. In these videos, they encourage would-be affiliate marketers to open with attention-grabbing hyperboles to encourage people to buy, buy, buy.
The overall effect is an entirely different kind of environment from what users might remember in TikTok’s early days.
I know there’s an argument there about my specific account’s algorithm because maybe I just watch too many of those types of videos to begin with. But even with a freshly made account, you would still get way more ads and sponsored promotional content than you’d expect.
As with many emerging trends, de-influencing can mean different things to different people.
For some creators, to be a de-influencer seems to be about making videos on trendy items that they bought because they saw it on TikTok, and giving an honest evaluation of their personal experience with it. In this case, it’s a bit like what you’d reasonably expect from an “authentic” influencer.
Others go an extra step. After talking about their experience with luxury products that they think are not worth the viewer’s money, they then provide cheaper or low-cost alternatives. This, again, feels a lot like what you’d see from a regular influencer who specializes in dupe brands and budget-friendly products — just labeled a different way and made to feel more “authentic” than your regular influencer.
But there is a small subset of TikTok de-influencers that focus on a core message of rejecting overspending and overconsumption, while recognizing the role TikTok has played in normalizing them with exaggerations about how a product can change your life. It’s this kind of de-influencer that I think truly qualifies as the opposite of influencers.
One de-influencer that I’ve found to be very enlightening is Paige Pritchard, whose account is called Overoming_Overspending. As a spending coach who works with women struggling with impulse buying and all its related financial problems, she’s been doing de-influencing work before the term “de-influencer” even came to be.
“Mascara isn’t going to change your life,” Paige says in a video. “The Stanley Cup isn’t going to change your life. Ugg minis… not going to change your life. The Charlotte Tilbury Contour Wand… not going to change your life.”
More than talking about which products not to buy, this type of de-influencer chooses to delve into what not to buy for which reasons. For Paige, it’s important to buy something for the value or utility it adds to your daily life (for example: a new journal to jot notes down on; a new foundation to replace your empty one) and not for how you think you would feel after you buy it (in those same examples: more organized; more confident and worthy of love).
Of course, that’s easier said than done, and the challenge lies in knowing the difference by looking inward. Unfortunately, that message is a lot less sexy than simply telling people that they can get the benefits of Product A at the price point of Product B.
The Why Matters
The line between influencers posing as de-influencers and actual de-influencers working against overconsumption can be hard to miss sometimes, but it’s important.
I’m old enough to remember a time before social media influencers existed. The whole reason they became popular was because they were perceived to be more authentic than celebrities used in traditional advertising — and they tended to charge brands a lot less than big-name figures.
It’s barely been a decade since influencer marketing became a thing, but so much has changed. And ironically, what an entire billion-dollar industry built on the promise of authenticity has shown us is that authenticity is a really tricky thing in an economic system that relies on making us buy more things more often.
Because sometimes, being authentic means telling people they shouldn’t buy the latest, the biggest, and the shiniest — and there’s no money to be made in trying to influence people in that way.
The real test for de-influencers is to see whether they’re for ending overconsumption, or just doing influencer things under a different — and currently trendy — name. And here, the why of their videos matters.
When browsing content under the #deinfluencing hashtag, many seem to be hopping onto the bandwagon of telling people to reject the latest must-haves, which is nice, though they stop short of talking about the role of consumerism and its effects on the planet.
Many others also seem to be in it to point fingers. “This product is bad, this product is better,” they might say. “Influencers are bad for making you buy this product that you don’t have the money to reasonably spend for, but you’re also not being smart enough to know it.” It’s all point, point, point.
Still, others seem to be hopping on the trend to make money. Now, I don’t claim to have mind-reading powers, but sometimes, if you squint, you can see when people are just out here chasing virality for profit.
Let’s take, for example, one TikTok creator I refuse to name. Her #deinfluencing video has been seen 1.4 million times as I type this, and it features her talking about popular beauty items she didn’t like, and then recommending cheaper alternatives instead. The said alternatives are on her Amazon Storefront, which lets her earn commissions from purchases made with her affiliate links.
The dots connect themselves, and none of them can be linked to ending overconsumption.
What Next: Are De-influencers Here to Stay?
Just over a decade ago, social media influencers disrupted the marketing world by providing a more authentic alternative to celebrity endorsements.
And now that de-influencers are apparently here to provide a more authentic voice compared to influencers, I suppose the question now is: How long before the tidal wave of consumerism gets to them, too?
Of course, no one’s expecting individual de-influencers and their still-growing following to change the world overnight. For instance, Paige Pritchard’s video on true de-influencing only has 433,200 views, compared to the millions of views enjoyed by more mainstream, Amazon Storefront-funded influencers posing as de-influencers.
And that’s partly because platforms like TikTok aren’t made for de-influencing as resistance to overconsumption. They’re made for fueling consumerism, which is a bigger problem than just one platform. Consumer culture is a lot more than just the For You page — therefore, it’s not always easy to opt out of it, and it’s going to take a lot more than a trend to dislodge it.
Still, the rise of de-influencers is still an interesting point of reflection on our own value systems and spending habits. It invites us to pause and think about how we see influencers, how we see products, and how we see ourselves in light of what we buy.
It’s also a reminder that what many of us crave is authenticity in a system that needs the currency of authenticity to sell us things, but is fundamentally at odds with it.
And if we can turn that search for authenticity inwards — in being more mindful about what we need and what can make us happy — then we might become just a bit better at resisting overconsumption.