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As people skip ‘unrelatable’ influencer ads, brands need to stop the hard sell


By Ellen Ormesher, Senior Reporter

July 20, 2023 | 7 min read

20% of people are skipping influencer ads due to the cost-of-living crisis, new research has found.


Deinfluencing is the biggest trend to come out of the cost-of-living crisis / Adobe Stock

Young people are turning against influencers touting unrelatable lifestyles amid the cost-of-living crisis.

According to recent research by Accenture Song, which surveyed 2,000 UK consumers, flashy and unattainable influencer content is losing its grip on the British public, particularly young people.

Almost a quarter (24%) of respondents aged 25-34 years old and nearly a fifth (19%) aged 16-24 say they have unfollowed accounts that they felt presented a lifestyle that wasn’t relatable to them, citing the cost-of-living crisis rendering overly aspirational content feeling out of touch with their reality.

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It points to a broader shift in consumer attitudes in the difficult economic climate, with a fifth (21%) of people saying they are less likely to be swayed by influencer content and recommendations and 20% saying they are more likely to skip past the content altogether.

Sophie Crowther, talent partnerships director at Billion Dollar Boy, an influencer marketing agency says the warning signs this was coming have been there for a while as far as social media engagement is concerned. “Traditionally, aspirational content has performed well - particularly the highly visual and heavily curated content of Instagram – and particularly during the pandemic when audiences needed escapism from lockdown,” she says. But that's changing.

The turn away from influencer content of this nature has seeped into customers’ perceptions of brands. 33% of all consumers have stopped spending with a brand due to the company feeling out of touch with the higher cost of living. A further third (32%) said they've done so because of something a brand did which felt unfair, unethical, or offensive.

Brands that have held onto reality are the ones that can still cut through with social media users. Ben Jeffries, chief executive of Influencer, notes that as society has emerged from the pandemic, relatable content from brands has been on the rise.

“TikTok has been instrumental in helping drive this, allowing space for its massive user base to exchange money-saving hacks and share experiences during tougher times," he explains. "Brands that have understood the nature of both influencers and this platform have been able to create content that remains relatable in a space that also provides escapism and humour – which is greatly needed.”

The cost-of-living crisis has also accelerated a new area of influencer content that is resonating with users – de-influencing.

Accenture’s research indicates nearly a quarter (22%) of consumers have engaged with de-influencer content since the start of the cost-of-living crisis – which calls brands and influencers into question and encourages consumers not to purchase unnecessary products or services. Among 16-24-year-olds, this figure rose to 33% and, critically, 64% of this age group decided not to spend with a brand as a direct result of engaging with de-influencer content, highlighting again that consumers are being more discerning with their spending.

As Billion Dollar Boy's Crowther explains: “De-influencing is a rejection of overly ‘salesy’ influencer marketing and instead reveals that consumers are embracing more considered purchasing and sustainability. It gives influencers an opportunity to maintain influence over consumers’ purchasing decisions even when budgets are tight, offering genuine recommendations to their followers towards cheaper and lesser known products.”

From ‘how-to’ videos to content creators ‘romanticizing’ their daily routines, Crowther said she's seen a rise in the popularity of authentic, raw and unedited content - as demonstrated by the emergence of BeReal and the sustained growth in popularity of TikTok. "Educational and informative content is also generating historically high engagement too,” she adds.

And it makes sense. “It’s natural that people will change the way they act as their financial status shifts and we can see people are taking a more subjective view of what’s actually valuable to them," adds Paul Greenwood, head of research and insight at the social-led creative agency, We Are Social. "That often means influencers flexing what they know rather than what they have - and brands should be taking a similar approach in social platforms.”

This can inadvertently help shape consumer behaviours and push them towards more sustainable (and cost-effective) habits and purchases. Earlier this year, research by Unilever found that three in four people are more likely to take up behaviors that are good for the environment after watching social media content, while eight in ten (83%) think TikTok and Instagram are good places to get advice about how to live sustainably.

Jeffries notes that influencer marketing has always been built on trust, which is reflected in the current climate. It’s therefore never been more important that brands “harness the relationships that their chosen ambassadors have built with their audience and can work with them to form meaningful relationships. What’s crucial is the authenticity of these partnerships.”

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