Consumer Culture, De-Influencing, and The Cost of Waste Due to Social Media
Reject today's consumer culture to protect your sanity, wallet, and maybe the planet.
Depending on what social media you use, you may or may not have heard of a new term called ‘de-influencing.' Mainly Gen Z and millennials are using it to explain how they're not going to continue promoting, buying, or influencing others to buy just because it makes them a chunk of money.
The internet bred influencers like bunnies.
Before you go any further, you need to know something about me.
I was an influencer of sorts in the day (15-ish years ago). It was before Insta, TikTok, and even before YouTube got huge. For many years, I had a couple of beauty blogs and received upwards of $500 in products every week—for free—in exchange for what the company would call “an honest review” and, quite often, additional monetary compensation Well, that's what they said on digital paper, anyway.
What happened was that if my review were to be “less than four stars,” I would decline to post about the item at all. I couldn't bring myself to lie. This was called personal ethics.
I wasn't going to go all out telling people that something was extraordinary when it wasn't. When something was so great that I wanted to buy more for myself or even as gifts, I'd rave about it. But I couldn't make it up if it weren't something I would encourage others to use. I remember when people would ask me what I do for a living, and I'd tell them about the time I had an exclusive (just me) in-person interview with Paris Hilton when she launched her perfume. After initially being branded a liar, I'd show proof and then get treated like a celebrity in my own right.
Now, in the interest of transparency, I'm not bashing affiliate programs in general. I belong to several and promote products I've bought with my own money and genuinely love. But more on that another time.
Social media bred influencers like cancer.
Enter Instagram, TikTok, reels, and shorts. Now you've got a zillion people posting about how unique something is in exchange for money. You could say, “Paid endorsements have been a thing since the dawn of radio,” and you'd be correct. But the problem I have is not paid endorsements.
The problem I have is when people scroll through the infinite feed of promotions and find themselves literally 10 seconds to their shopping cart. Not once in a while, either. But multiple times in a scroll session!
Consumer culture is a thing, folks. It used to be called “keeping up with the Joneses,” but it's worsened. Consumer culture in the media is when social media pushes products on consumers through media exposure and social pressures. Consumers see products being touted by people they admire for one reason or another as “must-haves.” They want them based on the culture of consumption more than what they want for themselves.
The average non-celebrity influencer with the average following quickly makes more money than you are. It's the influencer who doesn't care how much money you spend. They do what they do to put money in their pocket. I know this from experience.
It's the brand that doesn't care what it costs to get you to spend more. Paying a nano-influencer (someone with 1000-10,000 followers) costs an average of $40 per post. If that single influencer post gets only one person to buy their $80 product, there's the profit. Let's look at a celebrity macro-influencer (someone with 500,000 – 1,000,000 followers), and you're talking anywhere from $50,000 to $500,000 per post. But that person is likely to help sell thousands and even hundreds of thousands of individual products. Again, simple math.
So, why the hate of consumer culture?
From a personal perspective, as a single-income, Gen X household with a 10-year-old daughter, the drive to consume things simply because someone on TikTok told you to profoundly disturbs me.
I wouldn't be saying this if I hadn't ever caught myself doing it. But the worst thing for me is to see my daughter falling into the trap.
I was raised not to be a “brand snob” by my proud Hippie mom. She never would let me buy something just because my friends had it. Sure, there were My Little Pony collections and Barbies, and I seemed to have the first Colecovision on the planet. But I was literally the last of my friends to get a Cabbage Patch Doll (OMG, do you remember the consumer culture bomb around that one?) or a phone in my bedroom.
Consumer culture is mental manipulation.
It's easy to understand. Convince people they need what you're selling by using people to make it sound like the best thing going by paying them to tell people that it is.
Manipulating people's thoughts in the interest of capitalism is just icky to me. The Marlboro Man, Joe Camel, and even the Coca-Cola jingle, “I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing,” had people throwing their money at big corporations to “buy the world a Coke.” I know; it's how it's always been.
Depletion of natural resources and, I don't know, increased pollution, maybe?
We all know that higher production occurs as a result of increased demand. An increase in demand inherently increases production, leading to excessive land use, cutting down forests, and emission of pollutants. But so does the depletion of Earth's biological resources increase, and more tangible waste pollutes our planet. So then, the more we consume, the more the planet gets exploited.
Look, I've even gotten to the point where I'm counting my paper towels (and trying to use reusable ones instead) and considering a switch to shampoo bars. It's that much of a lightbulb for me.
And then there's the spending. Oh, the money!
Think about it. When was the last time you replaced a pair of jeans? I'm referring to the idea that you literally wore out a pair and had to replace them—not just add a new pair to your collection. I'm willing to bet that most consumers don't wait until something gets worn out before they buy new.
This goes for clothing and accessories, sure, what with today's nature of “fast fashion.” But don't forget all the face creams, lipsticks, kitchen gadgets, and cell phones. Your old iPhone 12 made calls when you upgraded to the 13. But by all means, spend that money on the latest and greatest.
Looking at myself, my family, and our life, it's far from extravagant. I drive an '04 Toyota, and my husband has an 80s Cadillac as a side project. We don't travel as much as I'd like to, but we value experiences and older things over new and shiny ones. So we save money that way for sure! We don't have a mortgage because I inherited my home.
When we look at how we can better our lives now and in the future, we must look at spending and consumption. Saving money now will aid us later in life, and reducing our consumption of things will contribute in some small way to helping slow the demise of our planet.
There's a new breed of social media influencers on the rise. They pride themselves on honesty and transparency and only support brands and companies they use and value. They are “de-influencers,” and while I'm not holding my breath, it's a refreshing idea that I hope takes hold and starts to help turn things around.
Turn away from social media influencers who tout for the money alone, and have an internal dialogue with yourself over whether or not you really need to have that $40 Stanley mug (Spoiler: You don't, and not just because Bethenny Frankel said so!)