question of the week

Should brands be worried about anti-overconsumption trends?

Once the purveyor of consumerist culture, social media is now turning against it. We ask how brands should respond to the anti-overconsumption trend

By conor nichols

Social media influencers are inviting us to consume less. Called #Deinfluencing, the anti-consumption trend and "anti-haul" content has been growing at pace, where consumers are being asked to break their shopping addictions. A trend that might feel terrifying for brands who rely on social media to reach their audiences.

It wasn't that long ago that #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt phenomenon was resulting in overnight success for several brands, driving up both awareness and sales. ‘De-influencing’ - the act of purposefully not buying into certain brands that influencers are promoting - has become a kind of movement that's reflects the mood of a generation concerned around waste and climate change. Deinfluencing videos on TikTok and Instagram are encouraging viewers to buy less and stop getting stuck in the never-ending trend cycles of “must-have” items. But is social media’s deinfluencing trend really encouraging the consumer to buy less? And is there anything that brands can learn from this trend on how to show up on social media?

Other anti-overconsumption trends and pledges like the ‘Rule of 5’ - limiting fashion purchases to five a year - have also gained traction. Will this be a wake-up call for brands on how they need to engage with consumers? Users are also pushing back against highly popular videos that feature shopping hauls, product reviews and the hashtag ‘#TikTokMadeMeBuyIt’, with a growing number of people calling for more focus on the effect of the app on mental health and sustainable practice.

What do these movements tell us about Gen Z and Gen Alpha’s attitudes to purchasing? And how should brands respond? We ask industry experts to weigh in.

Camila Toro, planning director, VCCP

Part of being an Influencer is promoting brands to make an income and to live off exposing your life for an online audience. The challenge is building an engaged audience that will pay attention. 'Deinfluencing' has emerged as a concept from the natural evolution of Influencers and how they are perceived by social media users. We could argue that Influencer product promotion and lavish lifestyles have lost their thunder, and now the spotlight is on Creators.

Why? Creators engage a niche audience by showing their craft - a product, a skill, a passion, etc. Creators trump Influencers as they hold, in many cases, a more engaged audience - you follow a Creator to learn, be entertained, get inspired. As a result, platforms champion them, audiences love them and brands want to desperately collaborate with them.

Creators are now taking the baton to further evolving the role of Influencers in culture and work with brands. A Creator might not tell you to buy something, but they’ll show you a new logo or take you through the latest Fashion Week runway in an entertaining way. Same same but different.

As a result, brands are increasing Influencer/Creator budgets because people no longer pay attention to ads on social. Brands understand we are all competing for attention and nothing beats an engaged audience when delivering a message, which is what Creators know how to do best.

As much as we would want to think that a TikTok trend is causing brands to respond and reconsider consumerism, we need to understand that what people say, and what people do are different things, especially on social. 'Rule of 5', for example, can work for many people as a guiding principle, but it is also an extremely interesting hook for a piece of content.

Beth Carroll, head of social and influencer, VML

At first glance, the trend towards deinfluencing might feel terrifying for brands who rely on social media to reach their audiences, but as you delve into the content that’s shared under the hashtag a different story emerges. What started as a statement about the consumerist world we live in today has become a way for influencers to call out products they don’t like, usually suggesting their audience buy a different product. Of the 28k views of deinfluencing hashtag, a lot of those views are simply pushing TikTokers to make an alternative purchase.

To put this in perspective, the #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt has had 86 billion views and half of TikTok’s users say they’ve bought something they’ve seen on TikTok. 71 per cent of TikTok users have also said creators have authentically motivated them to buy a product. Given TikTok are investing heavily in TikTok shop, they clearly recognise the overwhelming majority of the platform’s audience is open to buy from brands.

What brands should learn from the deinfluencing trend, is the power of showing up in a more human way across the social media universe. After years of being bombarded by brand logos flashing for three seconds and contrived influencer partnerships, brands should be more concerned about the internal ad blockers social media users have evolved.

The brands that will win in today’s social media landscape will focus their efforts on adding value to the audience through the content they share, positively contributing to the conversations their audiences are having and co-creating with the right creators to lead their audiences to purchase. For years, creatives have been taught that craft means to replicate a cinematic style, but in social the key to success is replicating the best performing creators that our audiences welcome into their feeds. Meta has said this type of content approach leads to an 84 per cent likelihood that the content will outperform studio-shot creative in driving content views, as well as a 63 per cent likelihood that it will drive more lower-funnel outcomes. TikTok has also said ads featuring creator partnerships see a staggering 83 per cent higher engagement rate versus non-creator ads.

While the risk from deinfluencers is small, the brands who are slow to shift their social strategies to meet the new world of social media best practice will have a much more worrying influence on their audience’s perception of the brand and their purchasing decisions.

Emma Glicher, social strategy director, Dentsu Creative

Over the last few years, TikTok has caused a colossal shift in the life cycle of trends. Microtrends emerged in place of the more long-term trend cycles which saw products, aesthetics and moments blow up overnight and disappear in a matter of weeks/months.

Overexposure to so many new trends may be starting to have an impact on Gen Z and Alpha, who are experiencing a sort of ‘trend burnout’. Instead of keeping up with viral products, many are turning to ‘deinfluencing’ as an antidote to the rapid trend cycles.

Whilst this does indicate that the way people engage with TikTok trends is changing, don’t fall into to the trap of thinking TikTok’s influence on consumerism is waning. Where #deinfluencing has 28k views, #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt still has 6.8m. Young people are becoming more suspicious of “viral” products as they lack the personal relevance that comes from more specific and trusted recommendations, but they’re still very much influenced to purchase via content they see on the platform.

Now, more than ever, young people are turning to TikTok over traditional search engines like google as a key part of their purchasing journey. Brands should be leveraging this to ensure their products show up in the right relevant searches and moments vs trying to chase virality or short term trends. 

Tom Sneddon, co founder, Supernova

In the ever-evolving landscape of social media and sustainability trends, 2024 promises to be a pivotal year. Audiences continue to ride the “de-influencing” movement, but we seem to be entering the next phase - where companies are now also being judged by their impact on their products on the environment and social responsibility.

Now, you might be thinking, “Sounds cool, but why all the fuss?” Well a huge portion of the social conversation we’re seeing around overconsumption is creators pushing against the short-lived nature of TikTok’s ever-evolving trends. Do you really need that viral glow wand? Will that insanely bright headlamp really make all the difference? Increasingly it seems not. Audiences are beginning to cut back on trend-purchasing and realising that what they spend money on has a lot of power.

But this has got to be a good thing, as better products and more meaningful purchases matter. A 2023 study by Frontiers in Environmental Science has shown that companies with strong ESG performances tend to have better financial results, lower risks, and higher investor interest. So, conscious consumerism is not just about feeling good; it’s about good business sense.

Mara Dettmann, digital strategy and content lead, BBH

Deinfluencing has proven its staying power as shoppers are embracing more savvy and conscious consumption habits. To stay relevant, brands need to clearly communicate why they’re worth it.

Over the last year, deinfluencing has evolved into conversations on TikTok and beyond around the decline of product quality across categories, the rise of dupes (and a shift it signals in value being considered savvy rather than embarrassing), and most recently #LoudBudgeting with mottos like “spending money is an ick.”

But deinfluencing isn’t actually bad news for brands: only the most radical TikToks actively preach anti-consumption – the vast majority encourage choosing purchases consciously and with consideration. So whether you’re a mainstream or premium brand, communicate that your product or service is a worthwhile investment in ways that resonate with your audience.

Felicitas Olschewski, chief digital officer, Edelman EMEA

There is not one thing that hasn’t been #deinfluenced –  from fashion brands, wedding planning, baby supplies and beauty. The reasons for #deinfluencing vary, but they often include concerns about quality, sustainability, ethics, or authenticity as well as inefficiency or low cost – value ratio.  

Gen Z and Gen Alpha are more conscious of the social and environmental impacts of their consumption choices - mostly the driving forces behind these movements as they trust their own community more than brands. If a product is not good, the whole world is going to find out tomorrow. 

Moreover, consumers are facing a cost-of-living crisis and inflation, which makes them spend more carefully and selectively. They are opting for trends that save money and reduce consumption, such as staying in or cooking at home, or taking on challenges that involve not spending at all for a month, also called #loudbudgeting.

These factors require more integrity from brands and influencers, who cannot rely on superficial or deceptive marketing strategies to attract and retain consumers. Consumers have seen too many toxic trends and seek truth-telling, content that cuts through the noise because it is not trying to sell them something they don't need or want. They are looking for content that offers genuine value and relevance, that educates, entertains, or inspires them, and that reflects their values and ethics. 

Brands that want to appeal to the anti-consumption audience on TikTok need to rethink their marketing strategies and align them with the values and expectations of these generations. Some possible ways to do this are: 

  • Think community leader, not marketer: Active Brands on Social understand what inspires their audiences and create lasting connections. They use Social Listening to assist and strengthen their communities, rather than trying to direct them, such as Dove. 

  • Listen, Learn & Launch: Active Brands reverse the insights model to creating products that stem from conversations on Social, such as Fenty Beauty. 

  • Be, where it matters: Lululemon saw the leggings #dupes trend as a risk to their sales but also an opportunity to win new consumers and show the quality and value for money. 

  • Make better products for people and the planet: Show how your products are not only high-quality and value for money, but also socially and environmentally responsible, and communicate this clearly to your customers. 

Jas Nandoo and Geo Fischer, junior creatives, Leo Burnett UK

We recently took part in ‘The Agency for Nature’ initiative from non-profits Glimpse and Purpose Directors, which aims to help people reconnect with nature. Our resulting work, “Girls Just Wanna Grow Plants” was designed to promote ‘slow living’. Taking inspiration from high fashion, we showed models immersed in nature, rejecting the pressures women face to constantly keep up with trends via overconsumption, in favour of a slower, more sustainable lifestyle. 

Whilst researching, we saw that people are starting to go against the grain and instead of focusing on a million things at the same time, an appreciation for simplicity has resurfaced. We’re seeking out small glimmers of happiness - romanticising our lives and focusing more on enjoying a small moment rather than amplifying bigger scale lifestyles.  

We see de-influencing and the idea of the “anti-trend” ironically becoming a trend in itself. Gen Z and Alpha are incredibly self-aware and are starting to evaluate their fast lifestyles and make conscious efforts to lean into the slow life.

“Influencing” will never disappear - finding people you relate to and being swayed by their way of thinking is an innate behaviour - but we might see a change in what people decide to promote, as the desire for this slower life emerges.


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