Fyre Festival Influencer Marketing—The Surprising Thing Fyre Festival Taught Us About Influencer Marketing

fyre festival influencer marketing

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What Marketers Can Learn From The Fyre Festival Influencer Marketing

It is unfortunate that one of influencer marketing’s most successful acts is also the one that most people would prefer to forget. In most respects, 2017’s Fyre Festival was a chapter of errors and an unmitigated disaster. However, it also stands as a case study showing the power of influencer marketing. The Fyre Festival influencers did their job—but the heightened expectations were crushed by an ominous reality.


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We’re off to explore uncharted waters

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Before delving into the detailed embers of the Fyre Festival that burned out before it began, we summarize key learnings:

  • Fyre Festival promotions worked exceedingly well through the use of influencer marketing.
  • Instagram influencers shared posts of orange squares that spread like “wildfyre,” creating hype and ultimately selling out the event.
  • Influencers did not properly disclose their sponsored content.
  • The Fyre Festival brand built a fraudulent business and deceptive ploy that influencers (and customers) had no way of knowing was a lie.

What Made Fyre Festival Promotions Work So Well?

Fyre Festival was supposed to be the social event of 2017. The organizers, led by fraudster Billy McFarland, created a launch campaign using ten of the world’s top supermodels. At the direction of McFarland and his team, the models promised Millennial and Gen Z Instagrammers the luxury festival of a lifetime, over two weekends, set on a sun-drenched island in the Bahamas.

Their marketing and messaging even emphasized that visitors would stay on an idyllic Bahamian private island “once owned by Pablo Escobar”—a marketing claim that ultimately lost them access to the island.

fyre festival influencer marketing

To drum up excitement and promote its launch, Instagram celebrity influencers each shared a simple orange square that alluded to exclusivity and luxury. The power of unified influencer efforts isn’t disputed here—after sharing the orange squares on the same day, tickets for the event sold out. For a first-year, last-minute festival, selling out is unheard of.

How Did People React When Fyre Festival Burned Out?



Unfortunately, though, the logistics and organization did not match the influencer marketing success. “Luxury villas” turned out to be white hurricane relief tents, “gourmet food” turned out to be cheese sandwiches, little was finished, and the promised music bands never came. The local facilities could not cope with the influx of visitors, and ultimately the festival turned into a laughable, albeit serious, catastrophe.


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The calm before the sh*t storm… #fyrefest #exuma #bahamas #herewego

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Once festival attendees and those who were stranded in airports arrived back home, a flood of anger and demand for explanations ensued. Many criticized influencers for not correctly disclosing sponsored content, lambasting their intentions. Most accused the organizers of scamming them (and rightfully so), with some filing lawsuits. But neither influencers nor customers had any way of knowing that Fyre Festival was a fiasco waiting to happen.

Fyre Festival Documentaries Uncover The Power (And Faults) Of Social Media Influencers

On the surface, you might interpret Fyre Festival to be a bad example of influencer marketing. But it’s exactly the opposite. The Fyre Festival influencer marketing was highly effective, showcasing the strength of a well-constructed influencer marketing strategy. Indeed, Fyre Festival influencers demonstrated just how much their opinion matters to their vast Instagram audience.



Nearly two years after the non-event, Fyre Festival is once again in the spotlight. Both Netflix and Hulu released documentaries in the same week, documenting the fiery details of Fyre Festival’s demise. While they make for somber viewing, showing how not to organize a major event, they also highlight the successful execution of influencer marketing.


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Honestly, you guys are the real ??

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Unshockingly, both the Netflix documentary, FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened and Hulu’s Fyre Fraud emphasize the deception and fraud of entrepreneur Billy McFarland.

However, onlookers and event participants are questioning the integrity of the influencers who took money (reportedly $250,000 in Kendall Jenner’s case) for their posts. There has been much scrutiny around the lack of sponsorship disclosure by most Fyre Fest influencers. Apparently, only Emily Ratajkowski included “#ad,” in her post.

An Overview Of The Fyre Festival Influencer Marketing Campaign

The organizing team hired FuckJerry Media, an offshoot of a popular Instagram meme account, to coordinate the influencer marketing component. Even they would have been surprised at how quickly the influencers spread the message, and the festival promptly sold out.

The Photoshoot


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MY GIRLS @heidydelarosa @rose_bertram @_leesha_

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The marketing team began by taking some of the world’s top supermodels to the Bahamas for dazzling photoshoots of the models enjoying luxurious, tropical conditions, and they later used these images as a guide to what festival attendees could expect.

The Orange Square


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The best in music, cuisine, design, and hospitality on a private island

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The main influencer campaign began on December 12, 2016, with 63 influencers simultaneously posting a blank orange square, using the hashtag #FyreFest. These posts received 300 million impressions in 24 hours.

The Sellout


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GA is sold out. Tent, home & yacht packages are still available. Get your tickets soon, before they’re all gone!

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It did not take long for 5,000 people to buy $4,000 tickets for the event. After General Admission tickets and tents sold out, pricier packages were still available.

The Snowball Effect

The influencer campaign continued, eventually involving more than 400 influencers. The organizers flew many of them down the Bahamas, photographing them and making the experience appear as though it would be just as magical for festival attendees.

Fyre Festival Fail By Day, Influencer Marketing Success Overnight

There has been much mudslinging due to the terminal failure of the Fyre Festival. However, it comes down to a dangerous concoction of two things: successful marketing combined with disastrous logistics and planning.

What Fyre Did Wrong


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Are you ready? #FyreFestival

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Billy McFarland took much of the flak. It was his concept, and he was in charge of planning. As the documentary footage shows, McFarland never wanted to acknowledge any planning deficiencies. He thought every problem was fixable.

He and his faithful team dispersed false claims about the event and conned people out of monstrous sums of money. Piggybacking on influencers, the Fyre team paid Kendall Jenner a reported $250,000 for a single promotional post about something she had little knowledge about. The marketing team was also naive about FTC compliance—something the FTC has committed to enforcing more strictly.

As a result, the marketers don’t come out of this unscathed. They paid celebrity influencers large sums of money and kept the influencers in the dark about what was actually happening at the festival site.

It did not take long before people began to question McFarland’s claims. Building an inaugural festival with a year’s planning, even in a central location, such as New York or Los Angeles, is near impossible. Creating a festival in a short time on an island in the Bahamas was probably never feasible.


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Things got off to an unexpected start at day one of Fyre Festival. FOR THOSE CURRENTLY ON GREAT EXUMA We are working to comfortably accommodate guests and deliver a great experience. If you have needs, please head to the “BLUE HOUSE” on the main festival site. Security, first aid, and Fyre Festival staff are here to assist immediately, 24/7. FOR THOSE WITH PENDING TRAVEL TO THE EXUMAS TOMORROW Due to circumstances beyond our control, and in line with a culture of safety, all inbound charter flights to the Exumas have been canceled. Your ticket and any funds uploaded to your RFID band will be refunded. Thank you for bearing with us as we work through the growing pains that every first year event experiences. Revised itinerary information will be shared soon for the remainder of this weekend and weekend two.

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Nonetheless, Billy McFarland kept the festival idea in motion while continually fending off criticism and doubt circulated by his team. He refused to admit his illusions of grandeur. His team, at his behest, continued to spread falsehoods about the event, regularly asking for upgrades and duping people into biting the bait. As a result, McFarland is now serving six years jail.

What Fyre Did Right


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The greatest success of Fyre was, without doubt, its marketing. FuckJerry recruited influencers who they knew could help the campaign go viral, and the creative and influencer marketing campaign were brilliantly executed.

The marketer team was tasked with enticing well-heeled Millennials to an island in the Bahamas, upselling as many experiences to them as possible. They succeeded magnificently at this, but the more Billy struggled to fund the festival, the more upsells he created.

What Influencers Did Wrong

The unfulfilled promises obviously led to some bitterness post-event. People have questioned how posting an orange square could lead to so much success.


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Be bold

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While the influencers exceeded influencer marketing expectations, they also gave their audience a false impression by buying into an event without any proof of an end product. On top of that, the bulk of the influencers also violated FTC guidelines by not acknowledging the pretty penny they were paid in exchange for their endorsement.

What Influencers Did Right

Undeniably, the influencer marketing campaign worked. Fohr CEO James Nord has said, “What’s interesting with Fyre is that the influencers mostly did what they were supposed to, and I think the speed in which the festival sold out is a testament to their power.”


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Lemons, piggies and some ?|| @theswimmingpigs @ishine365 @nickramirezx

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The influencers promoted a unified message simultaneously. In later posts, they showed behind-the-scenes images from the promotional photoshoots on social media, drumming up anticipation, resulting in a sold-out event.

Is Influencer Marketing in Jeopardy? Not Quite.

What Influencers Need To Understand About Influencer Marketing


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As much as the Fyre Festival campaign demonstrated the effectiveness of influencer marketing, the Fyre Festival influencers (and influencers, in general) need to learn from the costly mistakes. Products and services should be viable before influencers promote them to impressionable audiences. Influencers should also ensure that any promotional offers relate to a legitimate business.

Overall, influencers need do due diligence when scoping out brands they want to collaborate with. Brands have become wary of unknown influencers in the wake of Fyre Festival and other controversies, so influencers need to earn their badge of approval.

In order to improve transparency, influencer also need to properly disclose sponsorships and uphold values of authenticity. By understanding the influencer marketing landscape and FTC guidelines, influencers will earn the trust of consumers and brands.

What Brands Need To Understand About Influencer Marketing



It may seem obvious, but brands should not use influencers to promote something that they would not feel comfortable using themselves. Likewise, it is plain wrong to use influencers to promote unproven or nonexistent products. Indeed, influencers should not promote types of products that they do not encounter in their everyday lives.

When it comes to finding influencer partners, brands need to be selective. Brands should only work with influencers who are a natural fit, have an engaged following, and a trusting audience. Beyond that, the influencers’ followers should align with your brand’s target market.

In addition, brands need to understand FTC guidelines to ensure proper compliance. In reality, they are more than guidelines. It’s a rulebook that influencers and brands must obey with every sponsored post in order to protect consumers.

4 Things We Can All Learn From The Fyre Festival Influencer Marketing

As with any marketing mishap, there are lessons to be learned:

  1. First, and foremost, influencer marketing can be highly effective—in fact, too effective if you don’t have the infrastructure to match the marketing success.
  2. Second, while the Fyre Festival influencers were negligent in adhering to FTC guidelines, consumers overwhelmingly trust influencers—92% of Gen Z and Millennial consumers believe that their recommendations are more authentic than an advertisement.
  3. Third, although people often write off celebrity influencers as being too expensive, their power of connection worked in this case.
  4. Lastly, Billy McFarland and poor logistics are responsible for the failure of Fyre Festival. Influencers are not solely responsible for the festival’s dissolution. However, the Fyre Festival drama serves as a wakeup call to brands, marketers, influencers, and consumers.


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In honor of all the documentaries coming out this week about one of the most ridiculous times of my life. Here’s a throwback to some snapshots of my experience at the legendary #FyreFestival. Yes, I was actually there. I was the first flight in and last flight out. It started out legendary (check my videos), then expectations came crashing down, but we made the most of the failure. The festival was nothing, barely slept at all (and yeah in a wet bed), heard no music, did not eat one cheese and lettuce sandwich (food was actually not bad), but met some amazing friends and have a story to share at bonfires the rest of my life. These girls and my boy Trace, made the trip and weekend in Miami (once we flew back) one to remember. Always look at the glass half full! To help refund the Bahamian lady who provided all the meals for people on the island, check the link in my bio. Yes it’s verified and yes it’s actually her go-fund-me. Click the link ???? . #Fyre #FyreFest #FyreFestival #StitchedByMitch #NotMuchStitchOnThisPost

A post shared by Mitch Purgason (@stitchedbymitch) on

The influencer marketing industry has seen many peaks and valleys during its short lifetime. Fyre Festival influencers have endured backlash and have made subsequent efforts to clean up their acts. And even in the face of growing concerns, influencer marketing ad spend projections spell out a bright future for the industry.