Denizens of the internet will no doubt by now be well-acquainted with Fyre Festival, the festival tailored to elites that fell apart last week while the internet watched, rapt. Fyre Festival was promoted by models, celebrities, and influencers and drew attendees who were willing to shell out thousands of dollars for a ticket.
Promised exclusive access, luxury accommodations, top-notch catering, and VIP treatment, festival guests soon found themselves without food, shelter, or an expedient way off of the Bahamian island that was supposed to be the site of 2017’s most legendary music festival. Given how the events of Fyre Festival unfolded, that might have been the singular promise that co-founders Billy McFarland and Ja Rule managed to keep.
Now facing a $100 million lawsuit, Fyre Festival is headed for some rough waters, and apologies and refunds may not be enough to soothe tensions between the festival and attendees that found themselves in the middle of an uncomfortable (and potentially dangerous) situation.
Though some may level criticism at influencer marketing for the fiasco that was Fyre Festival, the reality is that Fyre Fest was a case of influencer marketing working a little too well for a festival that was plagued by poor planning and a stunning lack of foresight. Here’s what we can learn from Frye Festival’s mistakes.
Held on the Exuma islands in the Bahamas, Fyre Festival was advertised as an elite festival on the beach, complete with models, music, and the ocean. Blink-182, Migos, Disclosure, and more were set to perform, and the two-weekend-long festival was set to take place on a remote island that guests were told once belonged to famed drug lord Pablo Escobar, which turned out to be one of many things that weren’t true.
— Good Morning America (@GMA) May 1, 2017
The festival was apparently inspired by an emergency landing that McFarland and Ja Rule made on Exuma when they were taking flying lessons together. According to McFarland, they “ran out of gas and landed in the Exumas and both of us immediately fell in love.” From there, the co-founders put together a marketing plan and began planning the festival. The problem, of course, is that “planning” is a term that should be applied loosely. According to guests, a former festival employee, and McFarland himself, the festival organizers were woefully underprepared to contend with the challenges that come with producing a festival on an island that lacks the necessary infrastructure. From neglecting to pay artists and contractors to failing to account for the needs and safety concerns of attendees, Fyre Festival failed to meet some of the most basic criteria for a festival of its size and purported caliber. Marketing is critically important to the success of a product, but the marketing plan needs to be built around a product that works and that can deliver. Fyre Festival focused on marketing but failed to carry off an event that had any chance of working. Its failings were so profound that they should’ve been immediately obvious (and were, to some). Fyre Festival spent time, money, and effort marketing an event that couldn’t make good on its promises of elite access and luxury.
For all of its failings, Fyre Festival apparently did one thing right: It got people to show up.
#WHOSBP #damm #fyrefestival A post shared by whosbp8 (@whosbp8) on
Amid reckless and negligent errors in festival planning, Fyre Festival reached music fans and would-be festival goers and had them interested enough to pay anywhere from $450 to $250,000 for access. For a first-year festival, it’s no small feat, and much of the success came down Fyre Festival’s influencer marketing efforts with models and influencers on Instagram.
Word traveled quickly among the beautiful, rich, and (at least semi-) famous in the Instagram community, tickets were purchased, and Fyre seemed poised to be the newest darling of festival season. It’s further proof of concept for the effectiveness of influencer marketing, particularly on Instagram. The festival partnered with 400 willing influencers to spread the word via an orange square posted across the accounts of models, sports figures, DJs, and more on the same day in December. In addition, models like Bella Hadid lent their endorsements to the festival, though Hadid has since apologized and distanced herself from the festival.
Influencer marketing wasn’t the only marketing effort put forth by Fyre Festival, but Instagram was a huge part of the festival’s “success” — at least as far as selling tickets was concerned. It had other influencers and elite figures (many with their own robust Instagram followings) clamoring for a chance to attend. It had the trappings of a bonafide social media success story.
Fyre Festival can teach us something here. Influencer marketing works. It’s an effective way to reach audiences, and Fyre Festival did well in reaching the right audiences — namely those willing to spend a lot of money on a festival ticket. It wasn’t the marketing that was flawed, but the event being promoted. The responsibility for that failure falls squarely on the shoulders of the festival organizers and the failure’s exacerbated by the fact that influencer worked so well and made the event so notable.
Fyre Festival’s Instagram marketing success morphed into a very public failure broadcast by social media once festival goers arrived on Exumas and found that conditions were a far cry from what they’d been promised when they’d given the festival their credit card numbers. Twitter was alight with hashtags tracking the deteriorating conditions at the festival and there was a considerable uptick in the usage of the term “schadenfreude.” Instagram had hashtags of its own, full of dispatches from attendees detailing the less-than-exemplary festival experience on the ground. YouTubers uploaded vlogs documenting conditions and mishaps.
That’s the nature of success on social. When customers are pleased, a successful campaign has the power to become even more successful, experiencing organic growth and major reach. Word travels quickly and brands see massive returns on their initial investments. But when customers aren’t happy, when campaigns are poorly structured or make promises that prove unfulfillable, a brand’s failure can become public very quickly.
Influencer marketing’s biggest strength is that it leverages well-connected figures and creators on social media platforms in order to spread messages and awareness surrounding brands and products in a way that’s effective, natural, and authentic. But brands mustn’t take for granted the degree to which influencers are connected to their audiences. Word of brand failings travels faster than ever — just ask United, Pepsi, and now, Fyre Festival.
Even Fyre Festival’s disastrous demise (at least for this year — McFarland seems to be optimistic about trying again next year) is proof of the power of influencers. It’s important to pay close attention to influencer experiences and perception surrounding products and brands when it comes to influencers. Influencer opinions matter, their voices are heard, and their experiences have the power to trend.
Had Fyre Festival been more successful, if it had managed to pull off what it promised to deliver, we’d likely be talking about stage-side Instagram posts backdropped by beautiful Bahamian beaches and looking for ways to crowdfund a ticket to next year’s event. Instead, let’s take it as an opportunity to learn a fundamentally important lesson in the world of influencer marketing: Authenticity is only half the battle. Influencers speak authentically to their audiences, but if a product, ideal, or service falls dramatically short of its promise, brands are going to run into problems much bigger than likes, views, reach, and engagement.