What Fyre Festival’s fail taught us about influencer marketing


With every year comes a new barrage of festivals fighting for ticket sales. One such festival that had no troubles in selling out was Fyre Festival: 2017’s hot ticket according to Instagram. With the likes of Kendall Jenner, Nick Bateman and Bella Hadid exclaiming their ‘genuine’ excitement for the festival all over social media, word soon spread both online and offline. As festival goers arrived on site, they soon discovered that ‘Fyre Festival’ simply did not live up to the hype. With no celebrity presence, ticket holders took to the web to document their utter disappointment, and question the influencers that had convinced them to buy their tickets.

What this disaster has taught us is not only how not to run a festival, but also the unfortunate power of ‘big influencer marketing’. Fyre Festival exposed the dark side of this, up until recently, unregulated space. Here, we delve into the role influencer marketing has today in digital, and what we’d suggest to avoid getting caught in the ‘Fyre’-ing line.

Why bigger isn’t always better

Fyre’s marketing plan was simple: curate a group of 400 ‘Fyre Starters’. This group of world-renowned ‘millennial icons’ all have huge social media followings and an undeniable influence over their followers. Fyre gifted free tickets, flights, accommodation, and an additional payment in return for exposure to the influencer’s mass followings. Their posts willed fans to follow them to the island, investing their hopes and money in an all expenses paid ‘once-in-a-lifetime experience’.

But when things started to go south at Fyre Festival, so too did the influencer network supporting it. In retort to the uproar of festival goers, many of the Fyre Starters removed any posts where they had referenced the festival. Within the space of a few hours, all of the ‘social media hype’ had disappeared as if nothing had happened. Their brand advocates had completely disassociated themselves from the festival to save face — eradicating any influencer presence the festival had paid for.

The campaign not only brought to light the dishonesty that still lies in the influencer marketing space, but also the unfortunate power these Insta-celebrities have on our purchasing habits. Without any mention of sponsorship, many of the Fyre Starters hopelessly endorsed the festival, without actually investing the time to look into its legitimacy. With frankly very little care for their followers and personal gain at the forefront of their (or their managers) minds, they saw an opportunity and grabbed it.

Granted, such influencers have a reach that is unrivalled by other forms of media, and of course, we can’t tar them all with the same brush. But, if some of them are prepared to ‘break the rules’ of sponsorship, and scam their followers without a moment of thought it comes to question, are they really worth the investment?

Should I avoid influencers altogether?

The power and effectiveness of influencer marketing cannot be denied. More and more marketers are using this strategy (86% in fact) and with much success. The reason why they are so successful is their ability to connect with audiences on a human level, so it shouldn’t be completely sidelined. What we’d recommend is to take a step back and look at your digital marketing strategy as a whole. Influencer marketing is a powerful tool at your disposal, but one that should never be used in isolation. So, to make sure you get it right, here are our top tips; based on the mistakes Fyre Festival made.

1) Get planning

One fatal mistake Fyre Festival made was their lack of infrastructure: of both the festival itself and their marketing plan. Relying on the large social following of worldwide Insta stars and a few flashy videos is never enough — no matter how amazing what you’re offering is.

A plan starts with research. Look at the audience you want to target and think about all of the different channels you can use to reach them. Do they read blogs in their spare time? What social media channels do they use? What types of media do they consume? The answers to these questions will form the basis of your digital marketing plan and which channels you choose to focus on (PR, content, PPC, social).

Your plan should prioritise how all of your chosen channels integrate and work to support each other. If you are including influencer marketing, think about where it sits in respect to your wider plan: will you use it as a piece of content for social, can you integrate their content into your email newsletter, or make a landing page which features your work with influencers? This will provide a safety net for your marketing plan, removing the risk of being left with a non-existent campaign on account of an influencer deleting their post.

2) Be selective

Nowadays it’s rare to come across a blogger or influencer that doesn’t ask for some form of compensation, so it’s about being super selective with who you work with. For example, does their audience match yours? They may not have a huge follower base, but it’s about choosing an influencer that has an engaged and relevant audience. You want to not only ensure that your brand fits seamlessly into their values and content, but also vice versa. Any forceful marketing or jarring collaborations are just straight-up ineffective.

3) Make great content

Sure, an Instagram post which reaches millions of followers might sell tickets, but what really is the ‘value’ of this content. On an endless feed of aesthetically pleasing images, and a host of other products and brands it’s virtually impossible to make your mark. Such posts can be great ways to promote your content or work as part of a wider strategy, but should not be the only outlet for your campaign.

When working with influencers, think outside of the box. The sort of content you create should be based on what your audience likes to consume, and presented in a way that’s fresh for them. This could be a video, blog post, a series of interconnected social posts, or a themed photo shoot. Finally, work with the influencer to ensure that you mutually promote your collaboration. After all, working with influencers is all about maximising reach for both parties.

4) Be completely transparent

If there is payment involved, make sure all parties are clear about this when they post. The Federal Trade Commission hit Fyre Festival with a second class lawsuit for their sneaky marketing strategy, and have cracked down on the influencers who promoted the event. Sponsorship and payment is a very grey area, so you have to explicitly state the nature of the involvement. Consumers are aware of dishonest practices now more than ever, so it’s important to keep complete transparency throughout.

Learn from Fyre Festival’s mistakes: start with a strategic plan, work to create valuable collaborative content that maximises reach, and be completely honest and open with your audience. Stick to these pointers, and you should be onto a winner. Just avoid promising models, yachts, and a spa on a remote Caribbean island — it’s just unreasonable. Want some advice on how to approach influencers? We’ve brushed shoulders with a fair few, so we might be able to push you in the right direction.

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