The majority of us have probably heard about the infamous disaster of 2017’s ‘Fyre’ festival – and if you haven’t, have you been living under a rock!?
Although the two documentaries released on Hulu and Netflix this year, ‘Fyre Fraud’ and ‘Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened’, highlight a number of catastrophic complications that occurred, it is very interesting to see what happened from a marketing perspective.
What is Fyre?
Fyre Festival was billed as the biggest cultural event of the decade: a luxury music experience for a young, elite crowd on a posh, private island in the Bahamas. It was created with the intent of promoting the Fyre music booking app, a global entertainment marketplace that helped venues, brands and qualified private buyers book talent for live performances, appearances and paid social posts through one consistent and easy digital platform.
Fyre inadvertently ‘went up in flames’ because it was in the hands of an overconfident entrepreneur turned fraudster. Billy McFarland, the Founder and CEO, is now facing up to 20 years in prison as he failed to guide the company’s overall direction and strategy. Billy’s vision was to create a consumer event by selling a dream, a vacation, a concept. This wouldn’t have been possible without hiring the best of the best to manage the advertising and marketing and to run all of the social media.
The power of social media
Fyre is a prime example demonstrating how powerful social media can be. By cleverly combining commercial awareness with celebrity, recognition of the festival soon became ubiquitous. A large number of globally renowned supermodels – Bella Hadid, Emily Ratajkowski and Hailey Bieber to name a few – were used for the promotional shoot, which kick-started the initial online hype. It featured the models enjoying their time in the crystal-clear blue waters of the Caribbean, partying and relaxing on yachts in their bikinis, all of which looked like any millennial influencer’s dream weekend. This created a sense of serious ‘fomo’, otherwise known as a ‘fear of missing out’, among social media enthusiasts and successfully enticed the event’s target audience.
Due to its direction and execution, the promo video promised a very slick production. Setting the bar high at such an early stage led festival goers to expect nothing less than luxury and exclusivity. From a marketing perspective, the footage captured was second to none. It was the first of Fyre’s publicity, giving the world a glamorous insight into what the festival had to offer. For three or four days, people could escape reality. The models stirred up a lot of attention by posting pictures from the trip on Instagram; the fact that they were altogether on the island, particularly as a group, was quickly picked up by the press. They went on to hashtag ‘Fyre Festival’ on their posts which built a small to big buzz resulting in free press from the Daily Mail and Fyre becoming one of Jerry Media’s most important clients.
To ignite Fyre Festival, 400 influential personalities globally launched what could now be considered one of the best coordinated social media influencer campaigns ever. On Monday 12th December at 5pm, models, comedians, artists, actors, actresses and influencers from around the world simultaneously posted an ambiguous burnt orange tile to their Instagram feeds with the caption ‘join me @fyrefestival www.fyrefestival.com’. This action alone reached over 300 million people in 24 hours and drove millions of people to visit the website. Fyre’s Instagram account blew up and an influx of enthusiasm and awareness materialised overnight – a PR storm like never before.
Fyre partnered with Kendall Jenner to announce the festival’s first headliners, The G.O.O.D Music Family. Within five days, she amassed approximately 6 million unique impressions, creating an exponential leap in website views and ticket purchases. The celebrity socialites were needed as prominent ambassadors and representatives of the Fyre Tribe to lead the festival’s attendance.
Proof that influencer marketing can work
There have been multiple headlines about how Fyre Festival disclosed ‘the negatives of influencer marketing’, but Fyre in fact proves just how effective influencer marketing can be, although it must be done in the right way. It was a huge success because it managed to attract hundreds of people to an island for a brand new, innovative festival, and they paid astonishing amounts of money to be there. The use of social media influencers resulted in 95.8% of tickets being sold within 2 days. Music festival consultant, Marc Weinstein, commented that there was a tinge of resentment and humour from other industry insiders, as to sell out your music festival being a first time festival producer was a huge accomplishment. He thought that those involved must have been some of the ‘smartest guys in the room’. The CEO of Jerry Media even had brand sponsors asking if they could move their Coachella investments into Fyre. Due to people trusting Billy’s ideas and energy, the team behind Fyre were trying to tap into a culture that they believed in. They were uncompromising when it came to marketing.
The influencer outreach marketing campaign drummed up so much excitement that it accrued a total of 300 million social media views and 1.5 million media impressions 48 hours after launch. The speed in which the festival sold out is undeniably a testament to the influencer’s power. It was merely the influencers’ involvement shown through an orange square that enthused people, rather than anything tangible. The A-list names connected to Fyre is what gained traction among their followers.
A key element to an influencer’s success is the relationship they build with their audience. Content builds relationships. Relationships are built on trust. Trust drives revenue. Therefore, nobody questioned Fyre’s validity because of this link with the rich and famous. It was the product itself that didn’t live up to what the marketing campaign had portrayed.
What can we take from this?
Fyre Festival highlights many issues with how not to run an event! They had everything they needed to successfully sell the festival. Their downfall, however, was that they didn’t execute nor manage expectations and were dodging the inevitable. Incredible ticket packages kept being advertised, including a brand and jet experience and swanky accommodation for all guests, yet what they provided was a far stretch from a luxury villa on a deserted island. Kendall Jenner was reportedly paid £200,000 for one post and guaranteed a 1 bedroom, 3-person villa on the beach, which didn’t physically exist. Their outlandish promises were doomed when they overlooked the infrastructure needed to fulfil the festival. Not only did Fyre manage to scam their target market, they also conned an army of US and UK influencers, whereby the influencers became the influenced. Were the influencers responsible for the chaos, the lack of food and water, or artists pulling out, however? No, the organisers were.
We have learnt that the principles of influencer marketing clearly work wonders in terms of producing a groundbreaking return on investment, but need better regulation. Since the festival took place, influencers have become more careful when it comes to collaborations and what brands they choose to promote, and they must use #ad for transparency about a paid partnership. Fyre has emphasised why authenticity should be at the core of working with influencers – a fundamental belief and value here at Swayy.
Despite the festival’s laughable reputation, Fyre was very successful in that it was highly publicised and influencer-backed. It has verified the valuable roles of influencers, and has demonstrated that working with them can effectively produce viral marketing campaigns and increase brand value. The current number of companies engaging with industry and travel influencers shows the strength of influencer marketing and its continuation to grow. Ultimately, Fyre Festival has defined how we can connect a diverse set of influencers with a curious and adventurous global audience, which has proven to be a wonderful platform for success!
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By Tess Hardy