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Three things we can learn from the infamous Fyre Festival

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It’s been described as the greatest party that never happened. Set in a Bahamian island previously owned by Pablo Escobar, the luxury Fyre Festival was tipped to be better than Coachella.

Instead, the promised private island became a corner of Great Exuma island, the private jet was actually a rebranded commercial plane and the luxury villas were replaced by flooded disaster relief tents.

Festival-goers, who had paid between $1,000 and $12,500 for a ticket, turned up to what was practically a building site. There was no staff, limited food and water, no scheduled departure fights, and no music acts or promised influencers to party with.

Two documentaries about the disastrous musical festival – one on Netflix, the other on Hulu – have been released detailing not only the failure of the event but have also called into question the role of influencers in a marketing strategy.

From start-ups to well-establish brands, many businesses use influencers to promote their products, services and in Fyre Festival’s case “the cultural experience of the decade.”

And with 16-34 year olds spending an average of 39 minutes a day on YouTube who can blame them?1

People turn to their favourite Instagram personalities and YouTube stars for advice and recommendations on fashion and beauty through to health and well-being.
These influencers are trusted by millions of people and in a time where it’s difficult for brands to gain trust and loyalty from customers, more and more turn to influencers to transfer that trust.

And this is exactly what Fyre Festival did. The organisers spent a considerable amount of money on a hedonistic, co-ordinated influencer marketing launch campaign, which included a promotional video of famous supermodels living their best life partying in the Bahamas through to “influential personalities” posting “an ambiguous orange tile” with the hashtag #FyreFest simultaneously on social media, reaching 300 million people in just 24 hours.

However, the end result was a cancelled event and six years in prison for fraud for organiser Billy McFarand.

So what can we learn from Fyre Festival?

1. Transparency (reiterated)

Despite the rules around working with influencers being in-force for some time, some brands and influencers are still getting caught out, so here’s a recap.
When working with an influencer, if a brand provides payment, a free gift or perk such as entrance to an event, any subsequent posts from that influencer are subject to consumer protection law. In the UK, if the brand has control over the content the influencer posts e.g. guidelines or instructions on what to say, key hashtags that need to be used, they’re also subject to the Advertising Code.

Consumers have the right to know when they are being advertised to, and the responsibility for this falls into the hands of both brands and influencers. Not disclosing that a person is being paid to promote a product, service or event can leave both brand and influencer at risk of action from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

In the US, they have similar regulations that fall under the Federal Trade Commission (FTA) and in the case of Fyre Festival only one influencer, out of the top influencers used the hashtag #ad in their Fyre Festival related posts. As a result, some of these influencers are facing lawsuits for not properly disclosing their commercial relationship with Fyre Festival.

2. Integrity

As agencies such as the ASA and FTA crack down on the relationships between brands and influencers, consumers are becoming savvier and in some cases down-right fed up of the power of influencers.

There’s increasing backlash over some influencer marketing campaigns, particularly in the weight-loss and dieting industry. Actress Jameela Jamil has been very outspoken on the issue, starting the “I Weigh” campaign.

Which brings into question the integrity of influencers. As they say “with great power, comes great responsibility” and someone being paid or receiving benefits to promote a brand should understand the products, services and events they are asked advertise to their audience.

In the case of Fyre Festival, the documentary on Netflix shows that there was little understanding of what the event actually was and the nitty gritty details were withheld from both influencers and the agencies working with the organisers.

However, the responsibility doesn’t just lie with influencers, brands should act with integrity. When choosing which influencer to work with, brands need to consider the demographic that influencer reaches; is the product or service harmful to that influencer’s audience and does it match the brand demographic? This leads us to our third lesson, relevance.

3. Relevancy

If influencer marketing is part of your marketing strategy, find an influencer who is a natural fit for your brand. Are your brand values in line with their values? Are they reaching a demographic you want to target? Does the relationship make sense and feel organic?

According to the leaked pitch deck, Fyre Festival’s influencer marketing campaign was supposed to result in a sell-out event. But of the 40,000 tickets available, they sold 8,000.

And the budget for this campaign was not insignificant, with organisers reportedly paying Kendall Jenner an eye-watering $250,000 for just one Instagram post along with 400 other influencers also on the payroll.

According to Influencer Marketing Hub, Jenner had 72.5 million followers at the time of the post, they also point out that even if all 8,000 tickets could be attributed to her one post, that’s still less than 1% of her following attending the event.

That level of engagement probably could have been gained using smaller influencers at a fraction of the cost, freeing up budget to maybe meet all of the promises they made to festival goers; you know the gourmet food, actual accommodation or even just enough drinking water?

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Sharon Flaherty

Hi, I’m Sharon the Managing Director of BrandContent. Day-to-day I oversee client satisfaction and carry out strategic client work. I work on both established financial services brands as well as challengers and love working on both. In a previous life, I was a journalist at the Financial Times and worked in-house for brands including the MoneySuperMarket Group and leading their Content, PR and Social divisions.

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