Initiated by drag performer/activist Kimberly Clark in 2015, anti-hauls act as a digital counterculture to the purchasing persuasion tactics in beauty influencers’ favorites, hauls, or sponsored videos. Today, a Google search for said video content yields over two million results. “Clark and many of the YouTube anti-haulers she’s inspired dish about, say, the subpar quality of makeup collections rushed to market, but they also offer a more holistic look at the stark facts of capitalism and consumer psychology—the manufacturing of desire, the artificial scarcity of limited-edition products, the plague of FOMO,” writes Andi Zeisler.
Academic Rachel Wood explains that “anti-hauls can be understood as the reinvention of ‘culture jamming’ techniques for a contemporary promotional culture that is platform-based, algorithmically governed, and mobilized through the affective, authentic performance of influencers.” Paradoxically, all of the YouTuber channels producing anti-hauls also have videos of product favorites. This may raise the question of how authentic and effective the genre can be, but it simply shows that the “anti” aspect is not attached to completely avoiding consumption altogether, but rather mindless, hype-fueled purchases. “The market has shifted substantially in the past few years and we have seen brands respond to the changing demands of conscious consumers with innovation,” states Emma Fishwick, Account Manager at NPD UK Beauty. “There is a strong social media movement to buy less as demonstrated by ‘Buy Nothing Day’ in November. Amongst beauty devotees, we are witnessing a backlash to the ‘beauty haul’ videos on YouTube. Throughout 2019 and into 2020, the ‘anti-haul’ video has grown in popularity. And Green Friday was launched as an antidote to Black Friday to champion sustainability overspending.”
The far-reaching influence of this content is not to be underestimated: 68% of viewers use YouTube channels to aid in their purchasing decisions, 41% of US consumers highly rely on consumer ratings and reviews when researching products, and 29% make their purchases based on online commentary. “Reviews are powerful for health and beauty brands because of the social proof they attach not just to the brand, but to the quality of the products as well. Shoppers are looking for health and beauty brands that will become their go-to, and customer reviews show them how loyal other customers already are, and help turn potential shoppers into long-term brand advocates,” states Tim Peckover, Content Marketing Manager at brand loyalty business Smile.io. If positive reviews carry the power of persuasion, their negative counterparts hold the potential to dissuade.
Although the exact products mentioned differ from creator to creator, there are certain themes that reoccur across all channels: releases that fail to have an innovative aspect or inclusive color range, gimmicky or solely packaging-focused products, brands headed by problematic figures, and an excessive price tag. Furthermore, a vast majority of anti-hauls are concerned with color cosmetics only and not skincare or perfume. While a quarter of UK and US consumers are spending more money on beauty despite the pandemic, future uncertainty and a more-educated consumer indicates that these purchases will be subject to stricter criteria than ever before. Despite its intimidating demeanor, the anti-haul presents an excellent case study for brands attempting to gauge the needs of their audience. It offers valuable, constructive criticism from the most forthcoming and independent resource: consumers themselves.
Photo: Dmytro Lopatin via Unsplash