Multiple news articles, late night roasts and think pieces on the epic fail that was the Fyre Festival have been rolling in for the past two weeks and it’s hard to say when they’ll stop, especially considering the arrival of multiple lawsuits within a matter of days.
It’s hard to blame the editors. After all, this is one hell of a case study. Whether it was the backwards planning, the ridiculous deck or the basic lack of infrastructure, there were so many factors involved that led to such a massive marketing fiasco. And as the saying goes, it’s hard to look away from a train wreck.
For some great insights, check out these sources:
Rolling Stone: “Fyre Festival Disaster: Industry Vets Weigh in”
Vanity Fair: “Exclusive: The Leaked Fyre Festival Pitch Deck Is Beyond Parody”
Huffington Post: “Fyre Festival Blows The Celebrity Endorser Whistle”
Wired: “Blame the Fyre Festival Fiasco on the Plague of Celebrity Influencers”
— William N. Finley IV (@WNFIV) April 28, 2017
However, as a creative in the advertising industry, I couldn’t help but focus more on the particular failures of the Fyre Festival with respect to influencer marketing. With so many top social media influencers in their back pocket to promote the event, the organizers had some good ideas as to what could effectively get their target audiences to buy tickets. After all, people spent thousands to go to a brand-new festival after seeing their favorite social media stars promote it in videos as well as on their own Instagram accounts.
But in the end, the entire thing backfired in tremendous fashion, both due to the oversights of the festival organizers as well as of the influencers. Here’s how it happened.
All Flash, No Substance
Our CEO, Robin Neifield, covered customer advocacy in a previous blog where she discussed its effectiveness in building brand trust. Two specific key rules she pointed out: how you should focus on the most impactful network of advocates and communicate an emotional brand message that will resonate with your audience.
On these notes, the festival organizers achieved what they needed to do. Their so-called “Fyre Starters” formed what was basically an influencer marketing dream and their aspirational promotion videos were exactly what their audiences craved digitally and beyond.
However, they missed what was on the other side of the coin: fulfilling their brand promises. What seems obvious to any marketer was strangely not obvious to them: building up hype and brand trust is worth nothing if you don’t have the goods to back it up. To top it off, the promoters failed to listen to those employees would had the foresight to see the approaching disaster: according to Rolling Stone, a talent producer who quit in March said producers not only “had a lot of warnings,” but also “fired everyone along the way that told them it wasn’t feasible.”
As a result, the organizers and influencers opened themselves up to a whirlwind of backlash. And considering the target audience they had in mind, i.e., wealthy millennials who could afford the $1,500 to $12,500 tickets, they were in for a world of pain by consumers who had their own sources of influence. Case in point: the multiple class-action lawsuits that will likely cost them millions.
Looking Before You Leap
So where do the mistakes of the influencers come in? In simplest terms, they failed to exercise due diligence when it came to associating themselves with the festival. I’m sure there are plenty of people claiming these celebrities were ignorant and are therefore not at fault, but the fact is that kind of thinking is a cop-out. An influencer should be held responsible for any actions associated with their brand (it’s their brand, after all) and that includes doing your research before promoting a product.
Adweek said it best: brands and influencers need to “develop richer relationships that aren’t just one sided, where a brand simply pays you for posting something.” A common set of values, audiences and goals should always be in the back of any influencer’s mind.
Failure to do so can lead to exactly what happened to these social media stars: by linking themselves to the ill-fated festival and failing to confirm its legitimacy beforehand, they tarnished their own brands and shattered any trust they had with their followers.
Playing Fast & Loose With the Law
The legality issues regarding promoted posts could warrant an entire blog post on its own, but what happened with the Fyre Starters is a perfect example of how not to do it.
For one, the majority of influencers failed to disclose that they were paid for promoting the festival on their Instagram accounts. According to Wired, only model Emily Ratajkowski included “#ad” in her post. Not only is this not best practice, it’s also technically illegal since the Federal Trade Commission requires influencers to disclose a “material connection” to the advertiser or sponsor.
To make matters worse, after word spread about how epically terrible the actual festival was, most of the influencers either went radio-silent or tried to erase the Instagram paper trail.
The result? A lawsuit against the festival organizers and 100 of the influencers themselves. By not taking the time to follow the rules and regulations, both parties will likely feel serious regret—with respect to their brands and reputations as well as to their wallets.
To play devil’s advocate though, here’s a question: was the burden of transparency on the influencers or on the organizers to educate the influencers? I think it’s fair to argue that it’s both. Creating a brand partnership is a two-way street and all parties involved should make sure they are following the law of the land, point-blank.
A Questionable Future
Many have wondered if this means the end of influencer marketing or simply a make or break moment. I personally think it’s closer to the latter. On one hand, I think certain social media influencers will be more careful in what they promote and it should be interesting if the past series of events will cause the Federal Trade Commission to step up their game, especially in penalizing those who blatantly ignore the rules. But on the other, I think as long as social media campaigns exist, brand advocates will, too. The key difference is doing it responsibly on all accounts.