The Fyre Festival: Some Marketing Takeaways

by Justin Grensing, Esq., MBA

 

A couple of years ago, Ja Rule — a rapper who rose to prominence in the early 2000s — and Billy McFarland — an entrepreneur and now convicted fraudster — organized the Fyre music festival. Billed as a luxury music festival on a Bahamian island with gourmet food, beautiful people and top music acts, the festival briefly made big headlines as a total disaster. Acts canceled; the promoters lacked any real logistical prowess; there wasn’t enough food, water, toilets or accommodations; etc. For those who don’t remember, there is an entertaining Netflix documentary on the lead up to and the aftermath of the debacle.

In an article for Entrepreneur, John Boitnott points to the Fyre Festival as a perfect example of the dangers of influencer marketing, citing a misplaced focus of resources and questionable return on investment, among other issues.

“One of the mistakes Fyre organizers made was prioritizing buzz over substance,” says Boitnott. “Tasking multiple influencers (mostly young, popular models) to post content simultaneously certainly achieved the buzz they sought, but it came at an astonishing price. The focus on the big-name supermodels ended up costing cash that could have gone elsewhere—say, to building the necessary infrastructure for the festival location.”

There is no question that the event was a disaster and complete failure.  So much so that it resulted in felony fraud convictions for its principal organizer. But in focusing on the unquestionable disaster of the Fyre Festival, observers and commentators miss a key point: McFarland’s marketing did work. It’s absolutely true that the event was terribly planned and executed and that McFarland defrauded investors out of tens of millions of dollars. But he also sold multi-thousand dollar event tickets to thousands of people.

Let’s look briefly at some of the techniques he used to create this buzz and compel consumers to action.

Exclusivity

While Fyre Festival tickets were made available to the general public, the fact that tickets cost between hundreds and thousands of dollars, in addition to the travel costs of getting to the Bahamas, meant that the festival was out of reach for all but the relatively well-to-do. That exclusivity fuels demand.

Influencer Marketing

Boitnott’s article is very critical of influencer marketing but, again, McFarland’s use of celebrities and models to promote the event by showing themselves living it up in what appeared to be a Bahamian paradise appealed to those wanting to associate themselves with that lifestyle. Influencers influence!

Viral Marketing

McFarland proved himself to be a genius of viral marketing. His videos and posts reached millions of viewers and he successfully leveraged the social networks of the influencers he paid to tout Fyre.

 

The Fyre Festival is a great learning example for a number of business disciplines. Operationally and logistically it was a complete failure. But from a marketing standpoint, one could certainly call it a success. The problem, of course,  with selling one thing and delivering another is that, if done knowingly, it amounts to fraud. The aftermath of this “failed success” would likely have been much different if the Fyre Festival had somehow been able to deliver on its grandiose promises.

 

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Strategic Communications, LLC, works with B2B clients to help them achieve their goals through effective content marketing and management with both internal and external audiences. We are adept at evaluating and analyzing communication efforts and working with clients to plan, create and publish high-quality, unique content, through both on- and offline media to achieve desired results. Our background in business journalism, marketing, PR/media relations and online communications makes us well-positioned to serve the needs of 21st-century marketers.

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Recommended Reading

21st Century Secrets to Effective PR: Tips and Best Practices for Gaining Media Exposure

 

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