So far 2017 has been the year of marketing train wrecks, but few have managed to horrify and entertain like the Fyre Festival. On April 28, after being lured to the Bahamas by modern-day sirens of Instagram, hundreds of festivalgoers were horrified to find squalor instead of the luxury they were promised.
Let’s face it—things go wrong. Schedules change. It can happen to anyone, but the scale in which Fyre Festival went up in flames was one for the record books.
Lesson No. 1: Influence Marketing Is A Partnership, Not A Ploy
At ION, the concept of Brand Soulmates is more than a slogan. It’s a high standard in which brands are matched with influencers to create deep, meaningful relationships. In the case of Fyre Festival, they did a great job identifying top Instagram creators based on sheer followers—but other than a few promotional posts, that’s where the relationship ended.
When guests arrived to what appeared to be a refugee camp, those same Instagram stars were nowhere to be found. In addition, once the reality of the festival came to light, they all scrambled to delete those promotions and distance themselves as much as possible.
For creators, it’s tempting to jump on board a hype train just for the big payout, but a lack of involvement in the event itself outside of a title (“Fyre Starters”) means they placed their hard-earned reputations on the chopping block. For the event’s organizers, which included rapper Ja Rule, paying models and not partners turned a potential relationship into a meaningless, one-night stand with bitter feelings.
Lesson No. 2: Transparency Is Vital
Fyre Festival took place just weeks after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued over 90 letters to Instagram influencers to “clearly and conspicuously disclose their relationships to brands.”
Model and festival promoter Emily Ratajkowski, who made her debut in the film Gone Girl, was one of the only Fyre Starters in the Instagram marketing blitz to label her post as an “#ad,” which the Federal Trade Commission requires for paid posts. Most of the others, including Kendall Jenner (who was paid $250,000 for her part) did not label the posts as a paid endorsement.
As a result, scorned festival-goers are naming Jenner and others as responsible parties in their lawsuits—alleging fraud, negligent misrepresentation and unfair trade practices.
Lesson No. 3: Better To Retain Trust Than Repair It
“Mistrust” is the ultimate word du jour as Americans tread water on an unforgiving sea of WikiLeaks, fake news and politician promises. Consumers are already leery of advertising, so the Fyre Festival disaster just rubs salt in the wounds of marketers and influencers everywhere.
For brands, this cautionary tale teaches not only to follow through with what you promised, but to treat influencers as partners rather than a means to an end. In this case, that end was rather tragic—and literally dangerous—for those fans who shelled out as much as $12,000 to be left starving, unprotected and stranded. To make matters worse, guests were encouraged to preload money onto bracelets for a “cash-free” event, so many were left without access to backup funds.
For the Fyre Starters—a complete list of which has been leaked to Vanity Fair—it may prove difficult to rebuild trust with their millions of followers next time they glamorously recommend a product or event.
By unwittingly taking part on this marketing train wreck, those who promoted the Fyre Festival have cast a shadow of doubt for influence marketing as a practice, affecting brands and influencers worldwide.