Marketers, Avoid Getting Burned: Lessons to Take Away from the Fyre Festival
Recent documentaries from Netflix and Hulu showcasing the timeline of what was supposed to be the most epic two-weekend “luxury” music festival ever have caused a resurgence of this unforgettable moment in pop culture history. Instead of showing the journey leading to a lavish festival, it shows the unfortunate truth - the disaster of a disorganized event planned by an entrepreneur whose delusions knew no bounds.
The publicity around the major failure of Fyre Festival - which Netflix dubbed "The Greatest Party That Never Happened" - has spread like wildfire since these documentaries were released earlier this year. The Fyre Festival that promised a lineup of A-list artists, yachts, gourmet catering, top influencers and luxurious housing had hopeful attendees dropping up to $12,000 each on tickets. But instead of an extravagant music festival that offered people the chance to live like the elite for a few days, attendees faced cold cheese sandwiches and rain-damaged, flimsy tents (if they could even get their hands on one).
Although many find the situation humorous, accompanied by the viral memes and brands capitalizing off of it, Fyre Festival was (and still is) a total nightmare for those involved. From the organizers, business partners, investors, influencers used to promote the festival, ticket purchasers, and local Bahamian workers who helped with construction - the fire continues to burn. It has rallied countless class action lawsuits and not to mention, a lot of bad press.
One person that the world doesn’t feel bad for is Billy McFarland, the mastermind behind the festival initially intended to promote the Fyre music booking app. Partnering with artist Ja Rule and getting the backing of top influencers, McFarland used his overconfident personality to defraud investors and attendees. The documentaries show how McFarland pulled off extremely unethical business decisions to steal millions of dollars and scam people to pay for the event. He’s currently facing six years in federal prison facing fraudulent charges.
Although it failed as a music festival, Fyre Festival certainly provided millions of people with mind-blowing content for media and entertainment. Luckily, there are several key lessons marketers can take away from the most disastrous event in music festival history.
Know your product
Fyre Festival coordinators dove straight into influencer marketing without a solid plan for how to even put on the event. The promo video for the festival, filled with supermodels and influencers, is what ignited the buzz. But much to the world’s disappointment, the actual festival couldn’t live up to the video's hype. Ultimately, the video was the most meaningful asset they created throughout the entire process.
While the organizing team did a fantastic job creating a marketable idea that resonated with a target audience, what they were promoting was nothing more than an abstract concept. The organizers completely underestimated how much work goes into throwing an entire music festival and were marketing something that only sounded appealing in theory.
They certainly mastered social media marketing, but the main lesson for marketers here is to be confident that you know exactly what you’re marketing and that it’s substantial.
Use an honest approach
Just as you shouldn’t include clickbait in your content, you shouldn’t be selling false hope. The Fyre team eventually realized that they were selling a mere pipe dream that’d be nearly impossible to follow through with. As a result, the organizers are facing at least eight lawsuits, with one ticket holder suing for over $100 million in damages.
This goes to show that it doesn’t matter how shiny or fancy your marketing is if you don’t deliver. To maintain your brand’s credibility, you must live up to your brand's promises - something Fyre Festival failed to do. Whereas your product or service's poor quality might not result in a Netflix documentary, it will result in negative Yelp reviews, nasty comments on your social platforms, and the ultimate failure of your business through word of mouth.
As the days were counting down to the festival's launch, the organizers knew it was going to be a failure. They could have mitigated the *fire* early on by being transparent with their investors, business partners, and ticket buyers. Postponing or canceling the event would have resulted in a much better outcome than what ultimately unfolded.
Instead, they continued with the event, endangering hundreds of people’s lives. Jerry Media, the marketing agency that was monitoring Fyre Festival’s social media, reported that they deleted all of the negative comments from users. This, for sure, isn’t the way to deal with bad PR and can lead to a major backlash.
Deceiving customers is a sure way to drive them away. In the age of authenticity, offering transparency and visibility into your brand is vital.
Approach influencer marketing properly
If we know one thing the Fyre Festival got right (for the most part, at least), it was their influencer marketing strategy. There’s no question that the original promo video and the 400 Instagram influencers who got paid to promote the festival sold all those thousands of dollars of tickets for them. "A couple of powerful models posting an orange tile is what essentially built this entire festival," says Mick Purzycki, who helped organize the festival, in the Netflix documentary.
Image from BBC
Influencer marketing can be a key part of a successful marketing strategy. Influencers provide a surefire way to reach and connect with consumers and deliver great ROI - that is, if the business approaches this strategy properly.
This may perhaps be the biggest lesson for both marketers and influencers to take away. While brands should leverage the power of influencers and social platforms to promote their products and services, they must recognize the legal parameters surrounding influencer marketing.
Fyre dished out millions of dollars, paying influencers like Bella Hadid, Hailey Beiber and Kendall Jenner to promote the festival. However, one big misstep in the Fyre Festival’s strategy is that the influencers didn’t disclose that they were being paid for the posts. This could have been avoided by simply adding the tag #ad in the posts, as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires. Now, the influencers are facing subpoenas and potential lawsuits.
This is a big wake up call for brands and agencies to be more cautious about who they work with, and for both sides to be more transparent about paid endorsements. Find influencers whose values align with yours, and genuinely believe in your brand. It’s equally important for influencers to vet the brands they are considering working with as it is for the brands to vet the influencers. People can sense false endorsements from a mile away and don’t appreciate being misled.