It was the greatest party that never happened. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past month, you can’t have missed the latest furore about Fyre Fest. In January, Netflix and Hulu, almost simultaneously, released tell-all documentaries about the 2017 fiasco. What followed was a resurgence of shock, outrage, revulsion and, for some, hilarity as the story was replayed in front of our eyes in glorious, excruciating detail. An island in the Bahamas once owned by Pablo Escobar. Sunset frolicks with supermodels on white sand beaches. Relaxing in a beachside villa with alcohol on tap and a party that never stops. This was the fantasy painted founders, Billy McFarland and Ja Rule, with the help of a cluster of super powerful social media influencers. Escape to paradise and live like a millionaire with us, they cried out in simultaneous social media posts promoting the event. The reality was very different. Stranded guests camping in old hurricane shelters. Thousands of workers unpaid for hundreds of hours of labour after promises of economic prosperity for the island of Great Exuma. Untold numbers of people conned out of thousands of dollars that seemed to disappear into thin air. Fyre Fest was perhaps the most successful deployment of large scale influencer marketing ever attempted. But what lessons can be learned from what turned into such an unmitigated disaster?

A Timeline Of Fyre Fest

  • Billy McFarland, a serial entrepreneur, teams up with Ja Rule to create a brand, Fyre. Fyre was an app that helped people book their favourite artists, but without the usual headache that this involved. The boys loved partying, and soon the idea of Fyre Fest was concocted as a way to promote the app.
  • After acquiring an island previously owned by Pablo Escobar, the festival promoters heavily lean on ties to the infamous drug lord to sell tickets, which was strictly prohibited. Despite having sold Fyre Fest on the basis of partying in the footsteps of a famed criminal, Fyre Fest was forced to relocate after the owners of the island kicked them out.
  • With mere months to plan and execute the event, the team moves over to Great Exuma and hires hundreds of local people to get the site ready. Billy was haemorrhaging money and many of the promises they made to guests, such as private beach villas and yacht parties, were eventually traded for old hurricane shelters and single slice cheese sandwiches.
  • Despite the chaos, the event was slated to go ahead with horrified guests arriving to find limited provisions of shelter, food and water. All the musical acts cancelled and staff frantically tried to handle thousands of stranded, extremely angry attendees.
  • The event was eventually cancelled and Billy McFarland prosecuted for fraud.

The Power Of Influencer Marketing

The entire marketing strategy for the Fyre app was the festival. The sad part is, Fyre could have been a success. It had a team of young, talented employees who had worked for a considerable amount of time on the Fyre app and, according to the documentaries, had little clue about what was really going on with Fyre Festival. The marketing strategy for Fyre Festival? Well, that’s simple. Instagram. Billy McFarland is the kind of guy who will do anything for the gram. He epitomises the type of person for whom the appearance of them living it large is more important than what is actual reality.

Despite having absolutely zero logistics in place, the organisers of Fyre Fest went on an all-out guerilla campaign to take awareness of what they were doing from 1-100 in the blink of an eye. Not only that, the lack of real information heightened excitement around the event. The most prominent part of the campaign involved a number of influencers with huge social media followings posting a blank orange image on Instagram.

Some of the influencers included:

  • Kendall Jenner, 103 million followers
  • Bella Hadid, 22.8 million followers
  • Emily Ratajkowski, 21.8 million followers
  • Elsa Hosk, 5.2 million followers

The strategy succeeded, with Fyre Fest selling every single one of their tickets costing thousands of dollars each. As the organisation of the festival progressed, more tickets were released for unplanned events that were snapped up almost as soon as they went online. They created anticipation and expectation on a scale that was never seen before and brought home how unbelievably power influencer marketing can be.

“Powerful Marketing?” More Like Gullable Kids

The flip side to this is as follows: was this really a feat of marketing that will be remembered for years to come? Or was this a bunch of easily lead, too much money, social media obsessed millennials getting their comeuppance? The perceived hilarity of the event has been widely publicised, but the bigger picture needs to be analysed. Millennials are the first generation to have been exposed to social media from a relatively young age. There is an insane exposure to people who are perceived to be living a life of luxury and riches. People strive to attain what doesn’t actually exist. Even if you are rich and spending most of your time on beaches, life will never be perfect. What Fyre Fest did so spectacularly was to harness the power of influencers, the people who people want to be, and use them to sell what never actually existed. Influencer marketing is extremely powerful. The trust and often reverence that influencers are able to cultivate through social media can provide brands with a captive audience. What Fyre Fest has taught us is that without accountability, this power can easily be misused and cause untold pain and suffering.

Influencer marketing is definitely here to stay. Its scope has been revealed, and it’s no doubt that someone will come along soon with a similar strategy, but hopefully, they’ll deliver. If you want to use influencer marketing to grow your brand or business, be honest and work with people that share your values. If you’d like to discuss how to implement an effective Influencer Marketing strategy, get in touch with Koncept today.


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