The Fyre Festival Fiasco

What Marketers, Influencers and Consumers could learn from the Fyre Festival 

By Matty Maivha

In December 2016, mysterious orange squares with the hashtag #FyreFest teased Instagram timelines everywhere. In just twenty-four hours, sixty-three influencers managed to achieve three-hundred million impressions. The intent was to entice consumers with the promise of a luxury music festival on par with Coachella and Burning Man.

American entrepreneur and now convicted fraudster, Billy McFarland, co-founded the infamous Fyre Festival with ‘Always on Time’ rapper, Ja Rule. The unlikely business duo promised a festival like no other, scheduled to take place during the first half of 2017 on Pablo Escobar's Great Exuma Island in the Bahamas. Instead of yoga on the beach, yachts and headliner acts including Blink 182 and Migos; patrons were welcomed by rescue tents and cheese sandwiches served in polystyrene containers.

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Two competing documentaries unpacking the disaster that was the Fyre Festival were released earlier this year to provide a timeline of how the non-event dwindled. Fyre on Nexflix provides a more chronological dissection of Billy McFarland’s fraudulent behavior, as well as the downfall of the festival which separated goers from their money and exploited employees and investors. On the other hand, Fyre Fraud which premiered on Hulu a week earlier, offered viewers the ins and outs of the influencer ecosystem. Both documentaries delved into the systemic arrogance and incompetence that contributed towards the failure of the festival.

The downfall of the festival played out on social media like an April Fool’s prank that went too far. The real-time updates from the poor souls that fell victim to the lush, nearly two-minute long, supermodel-heavy announcement advert revealed that at the time - a big chunk of the blame was swayed towards the very same supermodels that enjoyed the crystal blue waters in the promotional content. Granted, they had played their role by accepting a fee to promote a ‘transformative experience’, however, they were not too well versed on the experience as a whole. “How could we ask the models to have the kind of awareness of the Fyre Festival that I myself did not have being an employee of Fyre Media,” said one of the employees in the Fyre documentary which aired on Nexflix in mid-January.

Back in 2017, celebrities, brands, and influencers were warned to clearly identify when they are promoting products on Instagram in return for payment. BBC published an article highlighting a clause that was part-prompted by the advocacy group Public Citizen. The clause addressed the fact that a number of celebrities and influencers posted content and failed to disclose their endorsements.  A letter sent out by The Federal Trade Commission then stated that the uncertainty around whether an Instagram user is paid to promote a product versus whether they actually use the product is misleading. In the long run, without a clear stipulation of the monetary exchange between brands and influencers, consumers are being deceived while brands maintain the financial benefits.

From Matte Projects/Courtesy of Fyre

From Matte Projects/Courtesy of Fyre

Influencers and marketers are in their own way responsible for ethical practices when promoting a product or service. This is where the ‘ad’ hashtag comes into play. Unfortunately, the influencer industry comes with the misconception that people live the lives that they post on social platforms. For this reason, it is important for influencers and marketers to be somewhat transparent. This can be achieved by simply making it known that some posts are indeed advertisements. There should be a sense of loyalty to followers as these are the same people that buy into brands based on influencer recommendations. It is only fair that influencers respect their followers and do not feed into false advertising.  With that being said, consumers need to be equally cautious by not ignorantly consuming everything that they are fed. It is the consumer’s responsibility to be aware of the content that is curated for them. If a new product or service tugs your fancy and comes at a hefty price tag, it would not hurt to do a little more research.

The Fyre Festival’s greatest success was its marketing which fed into the lifestyle of their target audience. The launch campaign was executed brilliantly as a group of people were able to sell a product that did not actually exist. Influencer marketing works and is here to stay, however, brands need to be trustworthy and provide honest content that benefits their market. After all, the consumers and what they do with the content is what actually matters in the end.