Posted inGlobalNews

The Environmental Cost of Influencer Gifting: Has It Gone Too Far?

are brands destroying the environmental well-being with these PR packages?

Over-the-Top PR Packages and Their Impact

From Gisou’s mini fridge to Gentle Monster’s XXL unicorn plushie, excessive and environmentally damaging packaging is making a strong comeback. Recent trends in influencer gifting reveal an alarming surge in wasteful practices. If you’ve been on #BeautyTok lately, you couldn’t have missed Gisou’s sticker-covered fridge brimming with products, which left many wishing they were influencers. Negin Mirsalehi’s honey-infused hair and skincare brand pushed the boundaries of PR packages by sending beauty creators a mini fridge filled with a plethora of products, including hair and body oils, serums, washes, and more. The campaign was a hit: #GisouMiniFridge has over 53 million views on TikTok, with thousands calling it the dream PR package.

@adorable_caro The CUTEST Fridge filled with @Gisou ✨🍓🌸🥭☀️ very blessed 😍😍 #gisou#gisoupackage#gisoufridge#neginmirsalehi#unboxing ♬ These Words – Badger & Natasha Bedingfield

Gisou isn’t the only brand embracing this ‘more is more’ approach. In April, Korean brand Gentle Monster sent influencers its latest sunglass collection with an XXL unicorn plushie. Laneige promoted its new ‘bouncy and firm’ sleeping mask by shipping it with an exercise ball in a lavish Tiffany-style box wrapped in satin ribbon. These extravagant packages often feature the actual product in a small fraction of the overall gift, but their gimmicky presentation drives significant social media engagement.

@gentlemonster_official 🎁Jennie Unpacking upcoming Jentle Salon collection special package 🦄✨5.1#GENTLEMONSTER#JENTLESALON #GENTLEMONSTERXJENNIE ♬ 오리지널 사운드 – gentlemonster

The Rise and Fall (and Rise Again) of Excessive PR Gifting

Excessive brand gifting isn’t a new phenomenon. Google Trends indicates the term ‘unboxing’ started gaining traction online as early as 2006, with superfluous PR mailers peaking in the late 2010s. As influencer marketing grew, brands competed to create the most eye-catching packages, like Kim Kardashian’s Kimoji Heart Fragrance delivered in a giant chocolate heart. This marked a turning point for many in the beauty industry, highlighting the climate-damaging cycle brands were perpetuating.

Big names in beauty, including Jen Atkin and Julie Schott, began speaking out against the wasteful trend. A 2018 Fashionista survey revealed that 81% of beauty insiders believed the packaging was excessive and needed change. In response, Beach House PR launched the #ChangeTheBeautyGame campaign, committing to 100% recycled environmental materials for their mailers. However, six years later, the trend has resurfaced. “This shift is very closely tied to our present moment in culture,” says beauty critic Jessica DeFino. “With real-world issues like climate change and systemic problems, the argument is ‘let people enjoy things,’ which helps justify these choices.”

The Cost of Attention: Marketing Strategies vs. Environmental Impact

Over-the-top unboxing videos offer viewers a momentary escape into luxury, at a time when most can’t afford lavish beauty products. Brands use these extravagant packages to cut through the noise in an increasingly crowded digital landscape. Creator and beauty entrepreneur Lisa Nilsson explains, “Even though it’s wasteful, it’s a great marketing strategy. These boxes have a wow factor that grabs more attention on social media.” The difference in engagement is stark; for example, lifestyle creator Anna Astrup’s Gisou fridge unboxing video garnered 2.5 million views and over 3,000 comments on TikTok, compared to 250,000 views and 170 comments on a simpler unboxing video.


The Environmental Toll of Influencer Gifting

In the midst of a global climate crisis, the environmental cost of excessive packaging is significant. Cosmetics are notoriously hard to recycle, and most packaging ends up in landfills, contributing to an estimated 45% of landfill waste. Donation is not a foolproof solution either, as only 20% of donated items find a second-hand user, with the rest often incinerated or sent to landfills in poorer countries. Ayesha Mehrotra, lead sustainability manager at Positive Planet, highlights that the unicorn plushies and exercise balls are made of complex synthetics and plastics that are difficult to recycle. The worst offenders are mini fridges, which have a high global warming potential.

To offset the carbon emissions from each mini fridge, Gisou would need to plant 97 trees, excluding the impact of the products inside or transportation. Some influencers are also concerned about the waste. Beauty influencer Francesca Murray suggests brands should ask creators about their preferences to avoid sending multiple items unnecessarily. Nilsson, determined to do things differently with her brand Nordh Skin, aims to use reusable bags for shipping, which can double as coin purses or makeup pouches.

Moving Forward: Reducing Excess in Influencer Marketing

The environmental damage from excessive beauty packaging is irreversible. Moving past this trend requires a cultural shift away from mass consumerism as a marker of success. “The best way to combat this on an individual level is by not interacting with excessive content,” DeFino says. “Brands alone cannot fix this waste problem; it requires government regulation, supply chain management, and collective action against overconsumption.”

Our culture has long celebrated overconsumption as a source of joy, from “retail therapy” to the “little treat” trend. However, this distraction technique masks the uncomfortable reality of environmental degradation. It’s clear that dramatic PR stunts and excessive packaging cannot continue in an ignorant vacuum.

Stay updated on all of the latest news by subscribing to the ITP Live newsletter below and by clicking the push notifications.