Marketers beware: Now we have the rise of the ‘de-influencer’

By our News Team | 2023

Paid influencers fawning over a procession of products is damaging their personal brands and losing them followers. Enter the ‘de-influencer’.

In between videos of friends, family or silly dances are promoted advertisements, often not labelled as such, to get social media users to buy the latest products and services. A simple scroll through TikTok can find thousands of videos of seemingly everyday people reviewing products from the fashion, beauty, fitness, auto and technology industries, among others.

Behind those reviews are influencers, mega- and nano-, who post product recommendations, often for payment by the brand involved, which can skew the critique in favour of the product.

Influencer Marketing

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

But academic researchers at Northeastern University in the US say the newest trend on social media platforms is ‘de-influencing’ – influencers urging followers to think twice about impulse-purchasing certain cult-favourite products, often in favour of cheaper alternatives. 

De-influencing is being pushed as an anti-consumption trend, especially as many consumers feel the crunch of their wallets due to higher living costs.

However, experts warn that this trend, which may seem like good news to most social media users, is often actually just another marketing scheme.

“We can think of it in some cases as just another form of influencer marketing,” states Alexandra Roberts, a Professor of Law and Media at Northeastern.

Roberts says people who put themselves out there as de-influencers are still in the influencing game. Many say: “don’t buy that; buy this instead,” or “here’s a cheaper version, here’s a dupe, here’s a version that’s going to work better”.

In essence, it is negatively reviewing one product while promoting an alternative one, Roberts emphasises.

So why is this trend popping up now? She believes it is because there is pushback from consumers who are tired of constantly being told what to buy and what to think when they log onto social media. Indeed, most of their feed seems to be an endless procession of marketing endorsements of some kind.

“[Everything] feels less authentic, less interesting, less organic,” Roberts explains. “We are also in a time when people are feeling really strapped and trying to save money and trying to cut back. So, it is appealing for many [social media users] to see posts on how to save money on the products they love.”

Another reason may be to avoid industry regulators

Another reason for the growing de-influencer trend may be marketers, brands and influencers wanting to avoid the ‘sponsored content’ disclosures required by an increasing number of regulators around the world, because it makes their content look less organic.

Roberts points out that a brand can pay an influencer, or give free product, in exchange for not promoting the brand concerned, but rather for criticising a competitor’s product or service – a deceptive and likely illegal practice.

Amy Pei, an Assistant Professor of Marketing at Northeastern University, adds that there are traditionally two main ways influencers have made money from their activities. 

The first is through monetary or product payment to promote something – the usual definition of ‘sponsored content’ or ‘influencer marketing’. The second monetary steam, though, is via subscription-based or membership-based payment models – such as through the Patreon platform – which then allows influencers to give unbiased reviews and recommendations, as they are not being paid by brands but by their (trusting) audience.

In effect, they become ‘positive’ de-influencers, who may be suggesting that consumers not use a product or service, but for all the right reasons.

There are also other factors at play here. In a recent article for The Conversation, three academics from Lancaster and Cardiff universities in the UK noted that beauty industry influencers, particularly on TikTok, had found their personal brands being damaged and follower numbers dropping because they were no longer trusted to be impartial.

This was leading them to become de-influencers and criticise brands and products – even ones they had previously collaborated with – in order to regain their status as industry gurus.

“Rather than representing the demise of influencers, de-influencing is an opportunity for them to reassert their original ‘guru’ role and gain trust through transparency and authenticity. It is a strategy used to protect their influencer role – and future income,” The Conversation article says.

All of which means the influencer marketing world has suddenly become a lot murkier and unpredictable for brands.

Dr Kin Kariisa

Group CEO - Next Media

Dr. Kin Kariisa is an extraordinary force at the helm of Next Media Services, a conglomerate encompassing NBS TV, Nile Post, Sanyuka TV, Next Radio, Salam TV, Next Communication, Next Productions, and an array of other influential enterprises. His dynamic role as Chief Executive Officer exemplifies his unwavering commitment to shaping media, business, and community landscapes.
With an esteemed academic journey, Dr. Kariisa’s accolades include an Honorary PhD in exemplary community service from the United Graduate College inTexas, an MBA from United States International University in Nairobi, Kenya, a Master’s degree in Computer Engineering from Huazong University in China, and a Bachelor’s degree in Statistics from Makerere University.
Dr. Kariisa pursued PhD research in Computer Security and Identity Management at Security of Systems Group, Radboud University in Nijmegen, Netherlands. As a dynamic educator, he has shared his expertise as a lecturer of e-Government and Information Security at both Makerere University and Radboud University.

Dr Kin did his PhD research in Computer Security and Identity Management at Security of Systems Group, Radbond University in Nigmegen, Netherlands. He previously served as a lecturer of e-Government and Information Security at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda and Radbond University in Netherlands.

Dr Kin did his postgraduate courses in Strategic Business Management, Strategic Leadership Communication and Strategies for Leading Successful Change Initiatives at Harvard University, Boston USA.

  • Other current and previous roles played by Dr Kin Kariisa:
  • Lecturer of e-Government and Information Security to graduate students at Makerere University, Kampala and Radbond University in the Netherlands
  • Director of Eco Bank Uganda Limited, one of the largest banks in Africa
  • Chairman of the National Association of Broadcasters, an umbrella industry association for all Television, Radio and online broadcasters in Uganda.
  • Chairman of Board of Directors of Nile Hotel International, that owns the leading hotel in Uganda, Kampala Serena Hotel.
  • Chairman of Board of Directors of Soliton Telmec Uganda, the leading telecom company in Optic fibre business managing over 80% of optic fibre in Uganda.