If you’ve paid any attention to social media or your favorite streaming apps within the last month, you’ve probably heard about 2017’s now-infamous Fyre Festival. The story of Fyre, the “festival” that never actually happened, is so fascinating that it became the subject of recent Netflix and Hulu documentaries, released within just days of one another. If you’re part of the tiny percentage of people who aren’t aware of this twisted tale, here’s the rundown:
The Fyre Festival Fraud
The festival, founded by Billy MacFarland and Ja Rule, was shamelessly promoted across social media by A-list supermodels and Instagram influencers (including Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, and Emily Ratajowski), as an exclusive, luxurious experience spanning multiple days on a private Bahamian island. The promos and Instagram ads were mesmerizing and suspiciously vague, using the brand hashtag #fyrefestival. Ticket prices ranged from $1,500 to over $100,000 for the “cultural experience of the decade,” and included airfare, gourmet meals, and luxury accommodations.
Upon arriving, festival-goers were disappointed to discover that the “luxury villas” were actually disaster relief tents, the “culinary experience” was actually cold cheese sandwiches, the “branded jet experience” was actually a commercial 747, and the artists scheduled to perform were actually… nowhere to be found. Fyre Festival organizers, who were unreachable for help or clarity, released a vague statement that the festival had been canceled, and a plethora of lawsuits was filed against the organizers and other parties involved. The chaos was chronicled by furious attendees, whose videos and photos spread like wildfire across social media platforms, making national news. Talk about trouble in paradise.
5 Digital Marketing Lessons We Learned from the Fyre Festival Fiasco
From a digital marketing standpoint, Fyre Festival demonstrates how powerful, and ultimately, detrimental, digital marketing (social media marketing and Instagram influencer marketing in particular) can be without a proper strategy in place. Although the festival was a disaster, it serves as an important lesson to brands and marketers alike, and we’re discussing what we learned below.
1. Never Underestimate the Power of Experiential Marketing.
Millennials prefer to spend their money on experiences over material things – and they are willing to pay extra for it. In fact, many brands already recognize this and are turning to experiential marketing to try to connect. Basically, this encompasses setting up opportunities for interaction, but with the brand and with other consumers, often through special events.
– Understanding the Research on Millennial Shopping Behaviors | Angela Woo
Tickets to Fyre Festival promised more than a live music event. Promos for the festival heavily focused on providing an experience, implying that, if only for three days, attendees would live the same lifestyle as the celebrities in the SMM promos. From traveling to an exclusive destination on a private jet to partying on a yacht with supermodels to having the chance to win an actual buried treasure, Fyre Festival marketed the event as an organic, magical experience for its target audience.
2. If You Make Big Promises, You Have to Hold Up Your End of the Deal.
Rule of thumb: don’t overpromise and underdeliver, or you risk ruining your brand’s reputation. Organizers of the event regularly referred to the Fyre Festival as “an experience that exceeds all expectations.” Fyre’s audience consumed these promises for months on end, truly believing that the event would exceed their already high expectations. We already know what happened when Fyre failed to deliver, to say the least. Now, everyone associates the Fyre brand with fear, dishonesty, and chaos. RIP Fyre.
3. Influencer Marketing Comes with a Price.
Festival organizers launched an influencer marketing campaign featuring over 400 widely-known social media brands and influencers, aka “Fyre Starters,” to share photos or videos to spark discussion about the event. Within the first 2 days of their Instagram marketing campaign, the promoted Instagram posts attained 300 million impressions. Impressive, right? But let’s not get carried away. This marketing strategy was anything but strategic, and here are the cold, hard facts:
- Kendall Jenner snagged a sweet $250K for a single post promoting the event.
- Billy MacFarland spent millions on marketing and endorsements from famous celebrities and Instagram users, using up a majority of the budget.
- This careless spending left little to no budget for proper infrastructure, staff, and artists.
Now, this is not to say that influencer marketing isn’t effective – it obviously is. But successful influencer marketing all boils down to implementing a specific digital marketing strategy and doing what you say you’re going to do.
4. Don’t Play the Blame Game.
Once the crap hit the fan, Ja Rule took to Twitter to apologize for the frenzy. Claiming that he was working to refund everyone’s money, he still had to emphasize that the failure of a festival was “NOT MY FAULT.”
Meanwhile, Billy McFarland issued an apology of his own to Rolling Stone:
We launched this festival marketing campaign. Our festival became a real thing and took [on] a life of it’s own. Our next step was to book the talent and actually make the music festival, and that’s when a lot of reality and roadblocks hit. We were a little naive in thinking for the first time we could do this ourselves.
One surefire way to destroy brand trust and loyalty is to deny responsibility for an issue that’s clearly your fault. Successful brands are accountable for their actions, acknowledge their shortcomings, and don’t rest until they make things right.
5. Just Be Honest.
Transparency has been a popular term in marketing lately, and for good reason. Customers only want to cultivate relationships with brands they can trust; Brands that are honest, transparent, and authentic. Every brand makes mistakes, and accidents happen. However, deliberately misleading your target audience to make a quick buck will ultimately leave you broke as a joke – because if consumers can’t trust you, they’re not going to support your brand.
McFarland admitted to launching Fyre’s multimillion-dollar marketing campaign before the actual event organization was even a thought. Fyre organizers knew that they were in too deep long before the scheduled date of the event, but they made no effort to warn their ticket holders.