What The Fyre Festival Taught us About Influencer Marketing

Unless you were living under a rock, April 2017 likely found you transfixed to your computer screen as complaints and updates poured out of Great Exuma Island in the Bahamas. The source of the unrest? The now infamous Fyre Festival. The music festival, brazenly promoted across social media by top tier influencers such as Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid, was meant to be a luxury affair promoting the Fyre music app. When patrons arrived, however, they were greeted with disaster relief tents as housing and no-show musical guests, among countless other issues. The entire event was postponed indefinitely after the first day, and multiple lawsuits were filed against the organizers and other involved parties.

Now the doomed festival is back in the spotlight, thanks to competing documentaries from Hulu and Netflix that seek to delve further into how the event managed to fall so short of its promises. But while gearing up to relive the madness, we want to take a look at arguably the only successful part of Fyre Fest: the marketing. Though debatably disingenuous, the influencer approach to Fyres promotion was one of the most successful of its kind to date. At the activation’s conclusion people were so eager to be involved, they shelled out thousands of dollars on festival tickets and airfare. Below, we discuss what can be learned from Fyre Fests hits and misses.


Wrong Place, Wrong Time

Fyre Festival was marketed as a luxury music event spanning multiple days and locations on its Bahamian site. The musical lineup was set to include Blink -182, Migos, Disclosure, and more. The festival itself was conceptualized by musician Ja Rule and Fyre Media founder and CEO Billy McFarland, after they landed on the island during a flying lesson. Unfortunately, picking Great Exuma as the site marked the beginning of a string of poor decisions for the cofounders, as they failed to account for the islands lack of infrastructure (in consideration of a crowd as large as that projected for the festival). So, while the influencer-heavy marketing strategy was successful, it was potentially stunted by being built around a flimsy foundation. No matter how successful a campaign, it’s only as good as it’s deliverables.


The Hype to end all Hype

Despite the initial planning faux pas, Fyre Fest went above and beyond in one area-getting people excited. Given that it was the fests inaugural year, lower attendance was to be expected. Instead, organizers reached thousands of individuals willing to pay the steep price of admission (with premium packages going for as much as 250K USD). It’s safe to say that this was due in large part to their aggressive influencer campaign. Partnering with big name celebrities, models, and social influencers alike, news of the festival spread like its namesake, with tickets selling in record time. The resounding success is further testament to the power of influencer collaboration.

While festival organizers invested in more traditional means of marketing as well, the efforts were effectively drowned out by the sheer volume of their influencers posts and reposts. The activation saw hundreds of influencer profiles emblazoned with the festival’s branded orange square, kicking off a hype train that arguably didn’t slow down until the first day of the event itself. In the case of Fyre Fest, the marketing was on point, it was the product that failed.


Celebrating too Soon

Unfortunately, the triumph of Fyre’s marketing campaign was short lived. The broad range of influencer promotion meant that when the festival crashed, it did so very publicly. Thanks to social media, tales of the festivals nightmarish conditions traveled with a speed almost rivaling that of the initial marketing push. It’s a not-unrelated lesson in the power of social media sharing-customers can be your best asset or biggest downfall. To that end, when your collaborators following is displeased, the influencer in question loses their guise of authenticity.  The solution? Deliver an airtight product.

In the end, Fyre Festival is now known for everything it failed to deliver. As of the streaming documentaries released last month, Bella Hadid is the only influencer involved who has stepped forward to apologize, Ja Rule remains defensive across social media, and co-founder Billy McFarland is serving jail time for fraud related to the event. There are many lessons to be learned in examining everything they did wrong, but for our purposes, it may be more useful to focus on the marketing that they got so right.