How Fyre Festival got Influencer Marketing Right…(and everything else wrong)

 -Fyre Festival

If you were pondering through the trending hashtags on Friday like I was, you might have come across #FyreFestival. Today, Vanity Fair released an exclusive look at the company’s leaked marketing pitch deck…adding fuel to the “fyre storm”.

Photos from the Bahamas-based event spread like wildfire across social media, as event attendees arrived at the event to be greeted by scenes that looked better suited to a disaster movie…

Fyre Festival had been marketed as the high-quality, exclusive Coachella, that would provide a select group of music lovers the festival atmosphere, but with decent tents, performances from Migos and Disclosure, booze and private planes.

This was not the reality. Sadly for those who dropped thousands of dollars—some people spent $12,000 on packages for the weekend—on a “once-in-a-lifetime musical experience,” things went from bad to worse. Their weekend was spent trying to organize flights out of the Bahamas, with many forced to seek assistance from the US Embassy.

“It literally looks like Katrina in the Bahamas,” Devon Wijesinghe, CEO of influencer marketing company InsightPool, said to AdWeek.

As tales came out of Blink 182 dropping out early and the catering contract with Starr Catering Group also being terminated weeks before the event, it appears to many that the event was doomed!

“the food services agreement Starr Catering Group entered for the Fyre Festival was terminated on April 2nd, 2017 and since that date Starr Catering Group| Starr Events has not been involved with or provided any services in connection with this event.”

There were several signs running up to the event that indicated that this event should have been canceled weeks ago. Fyre Festival, JaRule, and the other organizers could have saved themselves from PR embarrassment.


Statements issued by Fyre Festival on their website.

The Fyre Festival was heavily and effectively marketed by influencers, many of whom have remained quiet since the incident. Ja Rule, Bella Hadid, and Kendall Jenner were amongst those connected to the event through promotion.

On the one hand, Fyre Festival is a case study for how to do Influencer Marketing right.

How Fyre Festival Got it Right?

Firstly, Fyre Festival clearly identified a gap in the music festival market and created a product that spoke to a target customer. The team had Product Market Fit. They developed a product that fitted into the market, and most importantly, satisfied a need.

Secondly, the marketing team clearly identified that Influencer Marketing would be by far the most effective way to spread the word about the festival. By working with Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, and more, they found the best and most direct way to talk to their target market.

Influencer marketing is in its infancy. 2017 is predicted to be the year where this marketing tool dominates, in particular in B2C industries. In a survey conducted towards the end of 2016, 84% of marketers said they plan on launching at least one influencer campaign within the next 12 months. The idea has existed for some time in the form of customer testimonials or product reviews.

The principle of influencer marketing has existed for some time in the form of customer testimonials or product reviews. Now, with the explosion of social media, individuals can become ‘influencers’ in a given market or industry. This collection of individuals provides a unique pool for marketers to tap into, especially as 47% of online consumers now use ad blockers–making the simple tactic of “just running ads” a lot less feasible.

Think about it, how much more likely are you to purchase a product if a friend or someone you respect recommends it? Influencer Marketing is essentially deliberate word-of-mouth (a bit of an oxymoron, I know), and it works.

With the rise of ad blockers, the decline in traditional marketing tools, and the steady rise of social media, marketers need to fully embrace influencers to get their message heard in 2017 and beyond.

Here are the 5 steps to achieving success at Influencer Marketing:

  1. As with any marketing initiative, do your homework. Start by thinking about your customer.  Ask yourself, who is your target market, what content for they like, what content do they hate, what social channels do they use…it doesn’t matter what you are trying to market, you should also start with examining who your customer is and how they connect before making any decisions.
  2. Next, do your due diligence. Research social media influencers and be smart about how you choose them. Focusing on the number of followers should be your starting point. As always, they need to be the right people. Tools like Buzzstream can help you cut through some of the noise. Think Customer First!
  3. Build relationships with your influencers. You are trusting these individuals with a part of your brand. You want to be sure that they authentically fit with your brand. Also, get to know what your influencers’ objectives are, and work with them to provide value to both parties. You’ll be surprised how often this will mean more than money!
  4. Who will create the content? During these conversations, determine with each influencer where the content will come from, how you plan to measure success, and set clear expectations from the outset.
  5. Don’t forget about FTC compliance. According to Adweek, “The rules are clear just be ‘honest and not misleading.’ For short-format or ephemeral platforms, the FTC has agreed that ‘#ad’ effectively notes that the influencer has been compensated in some way. For YouTube videos, influencers should state that they are working with the brand, received compensation or complimentary products.”

Fyre Festival got a lot wrong. But their use of Influencer Marketing exemplifies how doing your homework, your due diligence, building relationships with influencers, and creating the right content works. Unfortunately, doing some of the steps and not all of them will lead to failure.

How Fyre Festival Got it So Wrong?

Despite the smart use of Influencer Marketing, Fyre Festival left a lot to be desired. As a marketer who has worked in the events space for over 5 years, Fyre Festival is every event professionals worst nightmare.

In fairness, my pre-event nightmares typically involve no-one showing up, as opposed to everyone showing up and nothing being ready!

Without being a member of the team, it’s easy to speculate where they went wrong. But, it looks to me like the team lacked the basic knowledge to pull off an event of this size.

Content wise, they lost a headliner early, Blink 182, which indicates that the band did not have confidence in the event organizers. Next, it turns out Fyre Festival canceled their catering contract a few weeks before the event. Not only was this a significant sign to the organizers that they should cancel, but also shows that either the organizers could not afford the catering or had not spent the time with the suppliers to ensure they were prepared. If Fyre Festival could not afford the catering, this shows a basic lack of cost knowledge. If they simply had not briefed the catering company in time, it shows a basic lack of organization.

In terms of influencer marketing, the festival’s failure to deliver shows that they failed to “be honest and not misleading.” They promised what they could not deliver. For startups, in particular, this is a key lesson. Knowing your own capabilities, and being honest about your weaknesses and what you need is vital. Having Product Market Fit is step one. Assessing your internal capabilities has to be step two. This will ensure that you market authentically, and deliver.

Authenticity is a hugely important trait to consumers these days. This was the single biggest mistake Fyre Festival made.

Based on their statement, it looks like the folks at Fyre Festival have learned their lesson and will wait until they are “able to create the high-quality experience we envisioned.”


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The role of the Chief Marketing Officer has drastically changed over the past few years. As new technology enters the already highly complex marketing environment, maximizing budget, resources, and trends is an endless juggling act for CMOs in consumer-driven industries. CMOs are looking to tactics like influencer marketing to get the message in front of the right people.

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