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Authenticity over Ads: TikTok’s De-Influencing Movement

In a digital landscape of excessive promotion and relentless advertisements a craving for authenticity on social media platforms is redefining the dynamics between brands, influencers, and their audiences. Ashley Bell reports.

Distinguishing authenticity from advertising in the digital world of social media and influencing has become increasingly challenging -- and as the line between content and ads continues to blur, demand has grown among Gen Z consumers for truly authentic and unfiltered content.

This demand has set the stage for a surge in user-generated content (UGC) and ignited the rapid growth of the 'de-influencing' TikTok trend, which places authenticity at the forefront, transforming social media platforms and reshaping the way brands and influencers engage their audiences.

“Chances are you’ve logged into TikTok today … so, you’ve probably already scrolled past 20 ads without knowing it," says talent manager Maddy Magri.

“People don’t want to be interrupted by ads when they’re scrolling on TikTok or Instagram. We know that consumers are receptive to sponsored content and product placement on social media… but not when it’s being shoved down [their] throats.”

The rise of #deinfluencing is reshaping the landscape of influencer marketing on TikTok. Photo: Ketut Subiyanto, Pexels

Self-titled TikTok “doom-scroller” Eliza Hockey says the rise of the #deinfluencing trend on TikTok closely mirrors the expectations of young audiences.

“Gen Z want meaningful content from the creators they follow, they’re bored of influencers that over-advertise and over-promote products on social media,” she says.

“At some point in the last five years, TikTok went from this funny platform full of cosplayers and dance trends to a never-ending stream of people trying to sell you shit you don’t need.”

“Heck, they probably don’t need the shit they’re selling you either.”

Over half of TikTok users (55%) have made purchases based on recommendations – genuine or not - from influencers or videos on the platform. However, with financial incentives often coming into play, Magri says disingenuity was a destined by-product of influencer marketing.

“Brands will choose to work with influencers whose audience aligns with their intended target market to ensure their message reaches and resonates with potential customers,” she says.

“Maybe some influencers are losing their influence,” Magri suggests traditional models of influencer marketing need a revamp. Photo: Supplied.

“While influencers’ endorsements or recommendations of products can help brands expand their reach and generate new leads, these recommendations aren’t always genuine.”

“Followers expect honest, unbiased recommendations from influencers,” says Magri, “but when large sums of money are involved… that’s just often not the case.”

As of 2021 the average cost for a single TikTok video was $3514, with $1170 per Instagram post.

Hockey says the #deinfluencing TikTok trend is reigniting trust between consumers and creators, through candid, unbiased and often unpaid product reviews.

“De-influencing allows creators to use their platform to honestly and openly explain why certain products just aren’t worth spending money on, and in turn, what is worth spending money on without the burden of marketing managers and brand reps breathing down their necks,” she says.

As of September, videos with the hashtag #deinflucing have accumulated nearly 900 million views globally on TikTok alone.

“The $700 Dyson Airwrap that will leave your hair looking frizzy, the $70 Charlotte Tilbury foundation that you can get at Woolies for less than half the price, the $60 Frank Green water bottle you just don’t need… de-influencing cuts through the fat of paid endorsements and gives you the honest review that influencers won’t,” says Hockey.

Transparency is a must to truly resonate with your audience says Melbourne based content creator and model Chloe Weight, who has accumulated nearly 15,000 followers on TikTok.

“People will follow you because they trust your opinions… they’ll watch your videos and listen to your recommendations before making a purchase because they want to know if [what you’re talking about] is worth it, and so the easiest thing you can do it be honest,” she says.

Inauthenticity is a key factor driving Gen Z consumers away from brands and creators, 30% of Gen Z users have unfollowed a creator on one of their social media channels because their content appeared disingenuous or fake.

“I guess you could say some influencers are losing their influence,” says Magri.

“But that doesn’t mean all forms of social media marketing will become obsolete… placing transparency at the forefront of content creation is what will keep your brand relevant.”

Digital marketing executive Meg-Mel Dean says a shift in influencer marketing tactics is needed for brands to keep up with changes in consumer behaviour.

“In a time where branded ads are passe, user-generated content is the next step,” she says.

“If the past three years in marketing has taught me anything, it's that consumers are growing more aware, and more sceptical of traditional advertising methods.”

Dean says marketing is evolving fast from picture-perfect ads to unfiltered and unedited content.

“People crave authenticity… pre-scripted content, conventional advertisements, and heavily branded videos just don’t cut it anymore because people can tell when something’s an ad and they’ll scroll right past,” she says.

Consumers find UGC nearly 10 times more impactful than influencer content when making a purchasing decision.

“We’ve actually seen that user generated content from our own experience and our own ads generates a 200% increase in click through rate versus non-user generated content… that’s just a fancy way of saying UGC works, and we have proof,” says Dean.

Brand coordinator Megan Owen-Jones says for businesses, integrating UGC into their digital marketing strategy should be a no-brainer.

“It not only amplifies their reach but also fosters authentic connections with their audience,” she says.

“Consumers trust UGC as it's a testament to real people and real experiences, it brings back the rawness and realness of influencer marketing, creating stronger consumer relationships and… brand loyalty.” Amidst the ever-evolving landscape of digital marketing, Owen-Jones says there’s always room for influencer marketing.

"Influencer marketing… continues to be effective,” she says, “let's avoid the mistake of categorising every influencer under the umbrella of dishonesty.”

“Just as in any industry, there are influencers who prioritise transparency and authenticity in their content… fashion creators who don’t accept gifted or paid promotion from fast fashion brands, skin experts who will only advertise certified organic and clean goods, trust me they’re out there… you just have to look for them.”

Ninety per cent of consumers say authenticity is a key factor when making a purchase decision.

“If I’m trying the newest moisturiser or viral foundation and I don’t think it’s worth the $100 price tag, I’ll look for a cheaper alternative and share those in a video instead,” Weight says.

“No shade to the brand if their product isn’t good, but I won’t lie about it… you couldn’t pay me to.”


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