Deinfluencing: anti-advertising is trending

Influencers are increasingly discouraging users from buying certain products. So, what’s behind the movement?

Deinfluencing is one of the latest social media trends.
Image: © nicoletaionescu / Adobe Stock

Social media is brimming with influencer marketing

Countless brands and companies have made influencer marketing an integral part of their marketing strategy. That’s hardly surprising, given that followers value the opinion of major influencers, even if they’re being paid for recommending the products. It’s not uncommon for a hype to then build, leading to skyrocketing sales figures and weeks or months of sold-out products.

The key to successful influencer marketing, also known as influencer commerce, is authentic promoters. If a popular account centering around sustainability introduces users to the latest vegan and fairly produced sneakers, this type of advertising is more likely to resonate with buyers than if the sneaker manufacturer were to collaborate with a budget airline. However, this level of publicity can also result in followers buying a product simply due to its popularity and not because they actually need it.

In response to that, a new hot trend has emerged on social media platforms over recent months: using the hashtag #Deinfluencing, influencers are negatively reviewing products they don’t think are worth buying. Beauty, lifestyle, food, and health are areas that are being particularly targeted by this anti-advertising – and followers are starting to listen.

#Deinfluencing: dissuasion instead of persuasion

There are a range of reasons why deinfluencer posts are catching on. Users’ social media feeds are full of promotional posts. And if they follow several influencers with similar interests, they’ll probably see the same product being advertised on multiple accounts. That in turn usually leads to them losing interest in these posts and accounts, thus shortening their attention span as well as their session duration.

In contrast, posts where an influencer expresses criticism of a product and discourages users from buying it rather than encouraging them stand out and are more likely to be remembered. Users actually value the honest review that deinfluencers share and also justify. Many of them even suggest a usually cheaper alternative to the product they’re criticizing in their post – bad news for the negatively reviewed item, but good for the alternative product. Another plus point for followers: they get a similar but better product for less money or refrain from making a purchase entirely, which is an important aspect in light of rising costs and inflation.

Up to early July 2023, videos containing the hashtag #Deinfluencing were watched 723.6 million times on TikTok.

And the deinfluencers are also benefiting in terms of greater loyalty from their community. Authentic recommendations – or more accurately non-recommendations – that aren’t based on an advertising collaboration are perceived as being genuine and give followers the impression that the opinion leaders behind them place more value on their community as opposed to promoting products to the greatest possible extent, usually for financial rewards.

Honest opinion or all part of a strategy?

For people who make a living as influencers, deinfluencing can be a business risk. After all, criticizing brands might put companies off from engaging them as advertising partners. On the flip side, companies may be tempted to leverage the deinfluencing phenomenon for marketing purposes, with the aim of getting deinfluencers to promote their product as an alternative to the one they’re negatively reviewing. A word of caution here, though, because a sponsored post must be labeled as an ad. This kind of paid review contradicts the principle of authenticity that makes deinfluencing so popular among followers.

Ultimately, deinfluencing isn’t just an altruistic attempt at giving a community access to honest product reviews – many influencers can also boost their own brand by showing that they hold their followers in higher esteem than advertising collaborations.

Brands, on the other hand, should try to maximize the positive aspects of deinfluencing, since honest feedback about their products is always an opportunity for them to make improvements – in a sense, they can benefit from it as free market research. It’s therefore important that companies watch out for reviews of their product. If deinfluencers criticize something like a poor or impractical product design, unsavory wordings, or a limited color range, brands can learn from that and counteract it by making the necessary changes.