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Authenticity in the West versus artificiality in the East

Cover image for Authenticity in the West versus artificiality in the East

Photo: Tara Winstead

Photo of Ashleigh Millar
by Ashleigh Millar

You might have heard the term “deinfluencing” floating around the internet recently. For context, earlier this year, a popular American TikTok beauty influencer, Mikayla Nogueira, took to the app to promote L’Oréal’s new ‘Telescopic Lift’ mascara, a brand with which she is a paid partner (although this detail was conveniently placed in a hard-to-read area of the video). This quickly turned into an internet scandal, which audiences have dubbed “mascara gate”, due to the belief that Nogueira has used false lashes to amplify the results of the product. And so sparked the rise of #deinfluencing (which currently stands at 213.5 million views on TikTok).

Endorsements, dupes, and credibility

As MIDiA has explained many times before, consumers are more inclined to resonate with products that are promoted to them in an authentic fashion by influencers they trust – they do not take kindly to being the subject of obvious paid promotion / sponsorships (as can be seen by #mascaragate) and being made to feel like another money-making opportunity for brands and corporations. In essence, they do not want to be fooled into spending money on a product that has been falsely advertised for profit (and who would?). Furthermore, in the current economic climate, where many are tightening their purse strings thanks to a cost-of-living crisis and the knock-on effects of the Russo-Ukrainian war, this exacerbates the sentiment further.

Enter deinfluencing. This is a trend where instead of influencers promoting reasons to buy a product, deinfluencers are promoting why their audience should not buy a product, and often suggesting cheaper alternatives (or ‘dupes’) that have the same, if not a better, outcome. This is considered to be authentic, refreshing, and more in line with the current state of the world, unlike the inauthentic and frequently tone-deaf videos from ‘influencer’ endorsements.

The generational influencer turnover 

While deinfluencing was coined as the antidote to overconsumption, this could, in fact, be another attempt at perceived authenticity, when it is actually just another influencing opportunity with a different hat on.

It is not difficult for creators to see, especially based on the backlash faced by those deemed ‘ingenuine’ and ‘insensitive’, that authenticity and relatability are key to building a loyal following – and what better way to do so than to encourage audiences to not waste their money on overpriced products and to share dupes (duplicates) that are affordable? While this sounds very much like a new brand of influencing, it also represents another part of the transition towards a new ‘authentic’ influencer generation (gen Z), which is rapidly replacing the original (millennial) influencers of yesteryear (the late noughties).

One person’s hashtag is another person’s virtual influencer

On the other hand (and other side of the world), while the West is rejecting obvious brand marketing on socials, China’s popularity in virtual influencers (VI) has increased quickly. Consumer interest in metahumans (avatars) is nothing new, and has been gradually increasing with the digitally-native generation since their development over a decade ago (see the success of vocaloid Luo Tainyi as an example).

With the prediction from WGSN stating that the Chinese influencer market will be worth more than $42 billion by 2030, it is reasonable to conclude that this consumer interest is only going to continue to grow, particularly with the wave of ever-developing AI and the metaverse. What makes this particularly interesting is the stark contrast between the artificial, brand-curated content that virtual influencers can produce, where companies and corporations run the narrative, versus the rejection of inauthentic marketing that we are currently experiencing on Western social media.

A bird’s AI VIew

Although there’s a particular promise in virtual influencers in China, as well as Japan and North Korea, this is not to say that these VIs are exclusively in that market. Successful VIs can be found in the likes of the US (Miquela), France (Zlu), and South Africa (Shudu), among others, and are taking on virtual brand deals from juggernauts like Vogue, Calvin Klein, Prada, etc. As the world moves further and further into the metaverse, brands will likely start spending more money on metahumans to market their products, alongside curating items purely for consumers in the metaverse itself.

This makes sense from a spending standpoint, as VIs who lack sentience and a controversial background do not run the same risks as human influencers, who have not shied away from dropping out of campaigns in the past, or have forced brands to quickly disassociate and source their replacements due to surfacing controversy. As a result, human content creators should be noting this growth in VI and the rapid popularity in AI, and either find a way to integrate it into their content or focus their output on what robots cannot do and exploit that.

The future is approaching quickly, and it is high time for marketers and creators alike to embrace it and experiment on how they can use it to their advantage while it is still in its early stages.

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