Fyre Festival received all the attention it was due but for all the wrong reasons. Two explosive and eye-opening documentaries aired earlier this year sealed its fate as one of the most high-profile festival failures of all time – and unfortunately, it was all fuelled by an influencer strategy that masked the organisational shambles behind the scene.
Fyre Festival’s astronomical fall from grace has been widely recognised as the catalyst sparking numerous conversations surrounding the pitfalls of influencer marketing.
To generate interest in the festival and boost ticket sales, Fyre co-founders Billy McFarland and Ja Rule launched a social media campaign in which 63 celebrity endorsers and influencers simultaneously posted an orange graphic to their Instagram feeds with the hashtag #FyreFest. Ostentatious promotional videos promising a luxury experience in the company of supermodels were also circulated. The campaign created over 300 million impressions in 24 hours and tickets sold out within two days.
Billed as “the greatest party that never happened”, Fyre Festival intended to connect “consumers, celebrities, and brands through live experiences”, promising an idealistic escape from the monotony of day-to-day life. Little did everyone know how far from the truth this was.
The Fyre was never truly put out and has left a trail of industry debate, negative headlines and regulatory change in its wake. Two years have passed since the fiasco, so what are the lessons that can be learnt from Fyre Festival?
One of the factors that left the Fyre Festival marketing campaign so widely discussed was the involvement of celebrity endorsers. It has since transpired that the celebrities involved were promoting an event they had little-to-no prior knowledge about and violated the Federal Trade Commission regulations on truth in advertising. The content created for their social media feeds was ambiguous and misleading, so followers believed they were personally promoting and, in some cases, attending the event. As a result, numerous influencers are now facing subpoenas for their involvement in the debacle.
The fallout from Fyre has also increased the demand for more influencer scrutiny. Many brands are now employing third-party tools to determine if users are genuine and not committing fraudulent activity such as following and unfollowing tactics to generate followers, ‘comment pods’ and ‘fake likes’. Fyre Festival cast a shade over celebrities and macro influencers’ authentically endorsing products and is fuelling the move towards influencers that deliver authentic comment and real engagement rather than mass reach.
Turn towards transparency
In January, the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) published a guide to social media endorsements and announced that 16 celebrities pledged to clearly disclose when they’ve been paid to mention or gifted certain products.
The CMA’s new guidelines aim to encourage standardisation across the industry and it’s vital that marketers and influencers alike continue to ultimately strive for transparency across partnerships and social content.
Consumers are savvier and more cautious of influencer marketing, with an improved awareness of how it works. Adweek’s study highlighted that 57% of millennials state they are willing to view sponsored content from a brand as long as it includes authentic personalities and is informative and entertaining. Meanwhile, Takumi’s The Influencer Index whitepaper reported that 92% of British Instagram users don’t trust ads that aren’t clearly labelled or signposted.
As a result, brand managers and content creators are now taking the necessary steps to inform their followers correctly, ensuring not to deliberately mislead them by providing false information about partnerships, gifts, and endorsements – or omitting necessary detail. There is now an expected industry standard across ad labelling and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) will not hesitate to reprimand – and fine – those who aren’t playing by the rules.
The transparency that the industry has so clearly been craving is finally coming to the fore, with the potential to significantly boost consumer trust and brands’ marketing ROI.
Is micro the way to go?
If for a second, you disregard the deception and lack of transparency that enveloped Fyre Festival’s marketing campaign and solely take the extortionate costs of creating Fyre Festival’s promotional material into consideration, it’s debatable as to whether the campaign would have even provided a return on investment. With Kendall Jenner being paid $250,000 for one post and celebrity endorsers being flown out to the Caribbean as often as Billy McFarland fired someone he didn’t agree with, it’s easy to see why.
Since the fiasco, the industry is seeing a shift away from celebrity endorsers and discount codes and more towards micro influencers, with brands choosing to forge real relationships with those who have 1,000-50,000 followers, and high engagement, rather than go after mass reach.
In a world where the vanity metric of follower numbers have slowly become less significant, engagement has become the key factor by which the industry determines success and commercial viability.
Micro influencers have already built the audience that brands are looking to reach and are closely connected with their fan bases. What must exist is an underlying element of trust, something which the celebrities involved in Fyre Festival arguably destroyed.
Two years on and it’s clear to see that Fyre Festival kick-started a deeper dive into the inner workings and failings of the influencer marketing industry and the documentaries have excelled in educating consumers about the consequences of poorly executed influencer marketing campaigns.
I’m sure no one ever thought they’d be thanking the Fyre Festival co-founders, but what has emerged from the scandal is a crackdown on influencers, transparency across ad-labelling and a level playing field for all influencers.