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What the Fyre Festival fiasco teaches us about influencer marketing

13th February 2019 by Caitlin Hardie | Content

You may remember sniggering at the 2017 news of the failed super-luxe music festival in the Bahamas after Fyre Festival’s inaugural weekend ran into some pretty big problems. With attendees parting with as much as $12,000 to see the likes of Blink 182 and Major Lazer, it’s not hard to see why people initially had little sympathy for the collapse of this exclusive event for rich kids and the ultra-privileged.   

However, after watching the recent Netflix and Hulu documentaries on the rise and fall of the designer music festival, you may have found yourself feeling more horrified than smug. For those yet to jump on the Fyre Festival documentary bandwagon, here’s a quick synopsis:

  • The mastermind behind the event was promoter-turned-convicted-fraudster Billy McFarland – currently serving a six-year sentence in federal prison – who dreamt up the idea of promoting this fantasy to those who could afford it. 
  • A gaggle of the world’s most famous Instagram models was flown out to the Bahamas to create a luxurious promo video building hype around the event. While this made it look like they would be coming to the festival, none of these influencers actually attended the event. 
  • Upon its launch, the festival’s influencer campaign consisted of 63 social media stars simultaneously posting an orange tile on their social media with the hashtag #FyreFest. This ramped up over 300 million impressions in 24 hours. Socialite and model Kendall Jenner famously received $250,000 in return for posting one of the tiles. 
  • On arrival, guests were met with soaked tents and very lacking infrastructure, with no sight of food prepared by celebrity chefs, cars or private jets, as had been promised. The event was postponed indefinitely.    

As one production professional briefly associated with the festival put it, it was “incompetence on an almost inconceivable scale. But aside from illuminating McFarland’s blatant fraudulence and the event’s near-total disorganisation, these documentaries also teach us some clear lessons about the potential dangers of influencer marketing. 

A lack of authenticity, a lack of ROI

Firstly, the majority of these super-famous macro-influencers didn’t disclose the fact they’d been paid to promote the event through social media posts – a violation of regulations of the FTC in the US and ASA in the UK. When this happens, consumers can’t make informed decisions as to whether the influencer is genuine in their praise of a product or if the post has been motivated by a monetary exchange. Furthermore, influencers knowingly creating a promotional video they knew wasn’t realistic or authentic presented a blatant lie to their followers.

Giving influencers the creative freedom to produce promotional content in ways they think will work for their platform and followers not only communicates a more authentic message, but also weeds out the duplicated, over-produced and implausible content we saw with the Fyre Festival’s influencer campaign.

However, with as much as $250,000 being offered in return for promoting this ultimately unattainable fantasy, you’d think this would make ticket sales fly through the roof. Wrong. While the festival caught everyone’s attention initially, influencer marketing, in this case, resulted in a mere 5,000 tickets being sold. This is because nobody genuinely trusts macro-influencers. While we might enjoy following these people, we have by now become desensitised to all the paid-for content which these social media superstars have saturated our screens with. 

Go micro

What really got people talking about Fyre Festival was a single tweet from an account with less than 1,000 followers. The post contained a photo of the sorry sight that was the cheese on bread received by a festival-goer whilst on the island.

So why did this post have such a big impact? Well, this social media user’s smaller audience follow him because they genuinely care about what he was to say. In turn, his content was always more likely to get a higher engagement rate from his pool of more invested followers. In other words, being the social creatures we are, we’re more likely to trust the words of our own friends than those of a famous stranger. 

With this in mind, instead of spending eye-watering amounts of money on celebrity product endorsements, marketers should champion their brand advocates who can create earned content – often free of charge. Just take a look at beauty-brand Glossier – their founder attributes 90% of their revenue to word of mouth by customers and fans. 

To recommend micro-influencers over macro-influencers is certainly not a radical or novel sentiment, as there has been much discussion about this for several years. Still, brands are creatures of habit, as Fyre Festival has shown us. That’s why cautionary tales like this provide us with a good opportunity to talk.  

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