Brands are still learning from Fyre Festival’s mistakes

In the aftermath of the failed Fyre Festival in April 2017, marketers and commentators were busy writing articles analysing the situation and how it went so wrong. The recent release of competing documentaries on the subject has revived that discussion. While some direct their ire towards founders Ja Rule and Billy McFarland, others blame the marketing strategy used by Fyre and its social marketing agency Jerry Media. But wherever the fault lies, Fyre Festival’s example can teach us a lot about the power and limitations of influencer marketing.

Impressions don’t always translate to sales

Forbes recently reported that 92% of internet consumers find influencer marketing more, and 47% of users employ Adblock technology, offering strong evidence that that traditional digital advertising channels are losing their reach while the power and appeal of influencers gains.

In this light, Fyre Festival is proof that macro-influencers can be highly effective in exciting otherwise difficult to reach markets. This was evident from the launch campaign, in which macro-influencers and celebrity “mega-influencers” posted an orange tile image that posted in the launch phase. For a time these posts set key segments of social media on fire, garnering 300 million impressions in the first 24 hours.

That said, this campaign also demonstrates that high impression numbers do not guarantee success. Fyre Festival’s marketing material claimed that by the end of March 40,000 tickets to the two-weekend music festival would be sold, but on the night before the festival, only 8,000 tickets had been sold. In the end, the influencer campaign’s inability to convert impressions into ticket sales showed a serious underperformance despite its massive reach.

Celebrities are not the solution

Kendall Jenner was paid an astounding $250,000 for just one post for the Fyre Festival, a sum that could have been spent more effectively on micro-influencers, who average one-tenth the cost of a macro-influencer and about 1/500th that of a Jenner-level celebrity.

Rather than blowing Fyre’s budget on a few posts to gain high impressions, a series of micro-influencer posts could have created a more sustainable story that translated into more sales for less. Micro-influencers tend to have higher levels of engagement with their audience, in part because they are seen as more likely to promote products and events they actually believe in. However, the one-size-fits-all “orange tile” concept may not have worked in this case, as micro-influencers tend to emphasize their integrity by personalizing their promotions.


Transparency is key

Fyre Festival’s marketing campaign launched only a few weeks after the US Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) announcement that influencers must disclose their relationships with brands in their posts. One of the only influencers to follow this guideline was model and actress Emily Ratajkowski, who included the requisite “#ad” in her post. Some of those who didn’t, including Jenner, have since been dragged into lawsuits that allege fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and unfair trade practises.

Recommendations to de-emphasize macro-influencers have become commonplace among marketing professionals lately, with Fyre’s high-profile negative example partly responsible. ROI for macro-influencers is dropping due to the loss of trust resulting from this and other scandals, and many companies have become convinced that a strategy which includes a long-term micro-influencer plan is often the better option to build a positive reputation and brand loyalty.

The failure of Fyre Festival acts as a case study of the continued need to understand one’s audience in the digital era. Brands have new avenues and tools to create deep connections and storytelling opportunities, but they still must fully consider both their logistics and their marketing strategies before embarking on a campaign.

By Jesse Ward, a Strategy and Relationship Executive at EloQ Communications (formerly Vero IMC Vietnam)

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