Deinfluencing is a new trend in which creators discourage users from indulging in a consumerist lifestyle, and from buying everything that is marketed to them on social media.
Remember when Fenty Beauty's Poutsicle hydrating lip stain started to take over the Internet? Influencers and content creators were gushing over the product leading to a chain reaction in which consumers began buying and trying the product on camera themselves. Very quickly, the lip stain sold out in Sephora stores islandwide, as well as online and it became incredibly hard to obtain, something that only increased the hype around the product.
This essentially gave the lip stain a cult-like following, a term we are seeing more and more as influencer marketing becomes more potent and effective. Some recent examples of brands that have enjoyed cult-like following status are Rare Beauty's Soft Pinch Liquid Blush, Olaplex's hair products, Dior's Lip Glow Oil and more.
So what exactly is the deal with cult branding? Cult branding or cult marketing is when a brand's “status” is so significant that it creates a large group of very loyal consumers that buy and use the product with simply the help of word of mouth marketing. "Clinique is another brand that comes to mind in recent times. In fact recently the Clinique black honey lipstick was trending with 242 million views on #blackhoney and #cliniqueblackhoney," said Althea Lim, the group chief executive officer at Gushcloud International when asked what brands come to mind when she thinks of cult followings. Other brands that fall into the cult crew include Prime Energy by Logan Paul which is an energy drink which gained its prominence with YouTube stars.
Meanwhile, you’ve got tech giants such as Apple, fitness apparel such as lululemon, fitness programs such as CrossFit, F&B brands Starbucks, motor brands Harley Davidson, MINI, streetwear brands namely Supreme and of course, your beauty brands like Fenty and Tatcha to name a few, said Kimberley Olsen, the director of Yatta Workshop, a creative digital agency that specialises in social media management who added that to be honest there are too many to name.
But can you manufacture a cult following?
Considering how beneficial it can be for a brand to have a cult-like following given word of mouth is known to be cost effective as a means of marketing, the question then becomes, is it possible for a company to manufacture a cult following to leverage on cult branding?
"I think the more pressing question should be can you even create a cult following for your brand," said Lim. She added that by definition, having a cult following literally means having die-hard fans of a product or brand and that this is a dream for most brands. "At Gushcloud, when we think about that, we think about the superfan strategy that celebrities use to grow their cult community," Lim said.
According to her, when one thinks about highly successful brands such as Fenty that is owned by Rihanna and LVMH, the cult following really starts because of the love fans have for Rihanna, her story and what she stands for. The fans believe deeply that her authenticity will come through in her brand.
Olsen added that while it is a goal to strive towards, there is no formulaic way to control a community. Instead, these brands should “shape” their community by creating hype that constantly surprises and delights their fans. At the end of the day, what sets a brand apart comes down to a few crucial factors that differentiate certain brands from their competition.
These include having a good spokesperson such as Elon Musk or Rihanna who are able to exude a strong brand identity that people can connect to and naturally want to be associated with and belong to, explained Olsen, who added:
The foundations of a cult brand are there, but it also relies on the story of the brand and the culture it cultivates that turns your average consumers into a community of fanatics.
Could deinfluencing affect cult branding?
While influencer marketing continues to be very prominent, we are slowly starting to see a new trend pop up and that is deinfluencing - a concept that could possibly affect how reliant a brand can be on its cult status.
Deinfluencing is a new trend in which creators discourage users from indulging in a consumerist lifestyle, and from buying everything that is marketed to them on social media. The idea behind deinfluncing is that while it is acceptable to buy things we really need or want, we should not feel compelled towards a life of overconsumption simply because of influencer marketing.
The idea rose to popularity in recent times and in the month of January and early February 2023, the term ‘deinfluencing’ saw a 2,228% increase in mentions, as compared to the same period 30 days prior, according to social listening company Meltwater.
According to CARMA, the term is increasingly being used as a hashtag or a genre of content, especially on TikTok where it has amassed millions of views. Moreover, content creators are being more vocal of brands they don’t like to ‘deinfluence’ their followers against them. CARMA added that other commonly associated hashtags include ‘deinfluencer’ and ‘antihaul’.
Mentions of deinfluencing are also highest among the Millennial group (25-34), and second-highest among Gen Z’s (18-24).
“Something to think about, is whether this is a signal that the era of influencers has peaked and we’re moving on,” added the spokesperson from CARMA.
While there is a rise in the trend, industry don’t necessarily think deinfluencing will have a significant impact on cult brands.
Lim commented that the first step to having a cult following is to have excellent products. "Deinfluencing is following the idea of buy less but buy well. So, if the brand has great qualities and a great story, I think they will still be very relevant in the market,” she said.
This then means that brands with subpar qualities that have relied primarily on hype and did not focus on quality and customer engagement or feedback, will likely experience some of the effects of the deinfluencing trends.
Olsen on the other hand believes that in today’s world, as much as hype can help promote how great a brand is, there can also be an equal amount of hype to tear it down. "At the end of the day, what separates cult consumers from the everyday consumer is the fact that cult communities don’t really care about the negativity because they are already emotionally in vested in a brand," she said. She went on to add that cult consumers pledge loyalty to a brand because they love the brand, and because it makes them feel good - something de influencing will not easily overthrow.
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