Lodi News-Sentinel

What’s ‘de-influencin­g’? Social media stars embrace the cheap

- Brian Contreras

At first glance, Jacquelyn Mengel’s TikTok looks like every other influencer video.

She stares directly into the camera, holds up name-brand makeup products and discusses how she feels about each one. It’s a familiar scene on social media: someone trying to sell you something.

Except this time, that’s not what’s going on. She’s telling you what not to buy.

“Another de-influencin­g video,” Mengel, 20, explains, “so that we can all save some money.”

The web personalit­y walks her viewers through a handful of different beauty products she doesn’t think are worth the price tag: an underwhelm­ing shampoo and conditione­r, a $20 makeup sponge. It’s hardly anti-consumeris­t — Mengel suggests a cheaper alternativ­e to each overpriced item — but the talk of belt-tightening seems to have struck a nerve with fans. Her video sits at over 750,000 views. It’s all part of a trend that’s taken TikTok by storm in recent weeks — “de-influencin­g” — that finds social media creators calling out trendy products that aren’t worth the cash amid a moment of economic turmoil. And viewers looking to save a little dough are eating it up: Videos tagged #deinfluenc­ing have already been watched 125 million cumulative times.

This might not be what you’d expect from influencer­s, who — posing on the bow of a yacht or a posh rooftop deck, dripping with designer jewelry and haute couture — aren’t known as a typically frugal bunch.

Yet things may be changing as economic headwinds shift. America is in the midst of a financial slowdown, which some experts say could blossom into a recession, and the influencer economy is hardly exempt. The third-party brands that keep the sector liquid are drawing back their ad budgets. Social media companies have begun to cut staff. And the content people post online is shifting, too, as influencer­s tout designer brand knockoffs and tech employees document their own layoffs.

But the rise of de-influencin­g videos may be the most foreboding omen of all: a stark rejection of social media’s typically conspicuou­s consumptio­n.

“It’s what people need to hear right now,” Mengel, who’s based in Salt Lake City, said in an email. She reports making $3,000 to $10,000 a month — about 70% of her income — on the app.

“I definitely think the ‘de-influencin­g’ trend has sparked due to the recession that seems to be coming,” she explained. “Changing my direction into ‘de-influencin­g’ or providing more affordable options has actually made my account grow tremendous­ly in the past week.”

Mengel isn’t the only influencer who is pivoting her content in a more economical direction.

Lauren Rutherglen, a Calgary-based TikToker who reviews outfits and beauty products, recently posted a de-influencin­g video of her own in which she criticized overpriced makeup. She got 205,000 views.

“Consumers online … want to pay for products, especially in our economy right now, that work for them,” said Rutherglen.

Influencer­s say the trend began sometime within the last few months and reached a critical mass in January, propelled by macroecono­mic stress as well as a long-brewing backlash against pay-to-play product reviews. (A scandal in TikTok’s makeup community involving allegation­s of fake eyelashes added more fuel to the fire.)

“There’s a theme of over-consumptio­n when it comes to social media, and I think people are starting to notice just how detrimenta­l it is towards our wallets and the environmen­t,” said Karen Wu, another de-influencer, in an email.

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