Amid controversial press trips and a fake mascara backlash, beauty influencers have been turning to negative content in an effort to boost engagement and authenticity. But does ‘de-influencing’ signal the beginning of their demise?
Have you noticed an influx of negative make-up reviews on your social media feeds recently? A TikTok influencer who normally promotes their latest beauty haul instead telling you what not to buy? Products that were viral favourites just last week suddenly being deemed overhyped and overrated? If you have, it’s likely that you’ve been “deinfluenced”.
Deinfluencing is the latest trend sweeping social media. Positioned as an antidote to overconsumption and product fatigue in the face of another economic recession, these “anti-influencer” videos see people taking to TikTok to share the products they don’t want their followers to buy. “I am here to de-influence you,” a viral video by Estefany Teran Rodriguez begins before she lists out all the products you shouldn’t be purchasing: the Ultra Mini Ugg Boot, the Dyson Airwrap, the Charlotte Tilbury Wand.
“Audiences are getting tired of seeing influencers [and] content creators flaunt and rave about products that are worth more than their basic necessities,” the 23-year-old sales coordinator tells Dazed. “The most notable community in over-saturation is the beauty one. Each day a new product is ‘the must-have’ item and the overconsumption is overwhelming and impossible to keep up with for any working-class person. The other day I realised I had about $250 worth of blush, which is absurd.”
While “de-influencing” no doubt has its roots in reactions against overconsumption and the cost of living crisis, it also reflects a growing fatigue and distrust in beauty influencers and the subsequent attempt by these influencers to pivot and remodel their content. Over the last few weeks, a series of events have indicated that the shine might be wearing off the idea of beauty influencers.
In January, a Tarte Cosmetics influencer trip to Dubai sparked debate and backlash across the internet. Pre-pandemic, influencer trips were the bread and butter of the beauty guru community, and brands spent millions of dollars – literally – flying the biggest YouTubers all around the world and showering them with luxury experiences. But against the backdrop of massive economic inequalities, these extravagant displays of wealth seem increasingly tone-deaf and the public mood towards them has shifted.
Another indicator that influencers might be losing their sheen is the struggle of influencer brands to survive in the beauty market. Despite massive social media followings, Addison Rae and Hyram Yarbro failed to translate those numbers into sales and convince people to actually spend money on their products. This failure of beauty influencers to resonate can be attributed to the mistrust cultivated by an oversaturated market and a lack of credibility. Consumers are no longer buying that influencers truly endorse the products they promote, oftentimes dubbing new beauty ventures as “money grabs” and accusing recommendations of being sponsored or paid for. It’s unsurprising, given how much sponsored content goes undisclosed, how often influencers use beauty filters or facetuning while doing tutorials or reviews, and how one-in-four influencers buy fake followers.
This loss of consumer trust became evident with the ‘MascaraGate’ beauty scandal. Back in January, Mikayla Nogueira, a popular TikTok beauty influencer with over 14 million followers, posted a sponsored review of L’Oreal’s Telescopic Lift Mascara. The video was quickly met with backlash as many viewers pointed out that it looked as though Nogueira was wearing fake lashes which she was trying to pass off as solely the results of the mascara. As the criticism grew, however, so did the engagement and the video now has almost 56 million views – significantly more than Nogueira’s average. Even with (or because of) the controversy, many sought out the mascara to prove the influencer was wearing “falsies” and ended up liking it in the process. While other top-grade influencers joined in on the bandwagon, criticising Nogueira, and feasting on the engagement.
@alyssastephanie I love deinfluencing ❤️ #deinfluencing #deinfluencergang #cultproduct ♬ original sound - Alyssa ✨
It’s clear that negative feedback can mean high engagement rates and negative content like bad reviews do equally as well – studies have shown that negative social media posts receive twice as much engagement than positive and this rings true for the beauty industry. Because viewers have grown sceptical and increasingly believe positive product endorsement to be disingenuous, negative reviews are often perceived as more authentic. “Bashing a product is hardly a new concept and is how influencers I grew up with blew up. They were ‘being honest’!” says Charlotte Palermino CEO and cofounder of Dieux Skin. “Negativity is more ‘believable’ but it also makes for excellent outrage content, and therefore… more views.”
However, just because a review is negative doesn’t mean it is any more trustworthy. During the height of beauty YouTube, beauty influencers were paid to make negative reviews of competitor brands. And while the deinfluencer trend may have started off as a reaction to overconsumption, it was quickly co-opted by people using it as a way to promote dupes or other products which, unlike the ones being criticised, ‘actually work’. Deinfluencing has thus just become influencing under a different wrapping. “Balanced reviews get the least engagement, which is why you see people move to extremes,” as Palermino says.
We’re now in an age where more people than ever are striving to be influencers. The algorithm is flooded with people telling you what products you should be putting on your face and social media has become a sphere of perpetual advertisement that is tiring consumers. Negative content elicits a response and higher levels of engagement from audiences, so it’s not surprising that influencers are using it as a tactic to stand out from the crowd. But this performative authenticity only highlights the trust crisis and as product sales dwindle and big names struggle to influence buyers, could ‘deinfluencing’ be nothing but a last-ditch effort to save the dying influencer industrial complex?