This time last year, the internet was ablaze with one of the hottest influencer marketing campaigns of our time - The Fyre Festival. Claiming to be the new Coachella, and located on a stunning private island in the Bahamas, celebrities from across Instagram were filling our feeds with promises that we’d suffer some serious FOMO if we missed out.
And then, the “Fyre” got a little out of control.
What was the Fyre Festival all about?
The Fyre Festival was the brainchild of rapper Ja Rule and serial entrepreneur Billy McFarland and promised to be the “biggest FOMO-inducing event of 2017”. So far, so exciting. The promotional video that was shared around the internet over 2 million times, and featured mega-influencers like Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski, promised attendees a luxury, weekend-long festival on a private island in the Bahamas, complete with celebrity chef catered food, luxury cabanas, and a stellar line-up of music acts to enjoy.
You can see the beautiful influencers arriving at the island by private jet, frolicking on the beach, and having a VERY insta-worthy time in the video above. Not surprisingly, people were desperate to get their hands on tickets of their own - and with prices ranging from $1,500 - $12,000 - it looked like this was going to be a leading, luxury event for the history books.
How did the festival utilize Influencer Marketing?
The majority of the marketing campaign for the Fyre Festival was carried out via influencer marketing - perfectly positioning themselves in front of their ideal market of the young and hip (and wealthy).
In the leaked pitch deck for the campaign, the “Fyre Squad” (yes, that’s what they called themselves) outlined how they had partnered with over 400 “Fyre Starters” (it just gets better, doesn’t it?). All of which had mass followings on social media to promote this new and exclusive music festival. Names at the top of the list included well-known celebrities like Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, Nick Bateman, and Emily Ratajkowski, all with followings of over 6 million people - ensuring the event would be getting maximum exposure.
The campaign began with each of the selected influencers posting a simple orange square on their pages, with excited captions describing just excited they were for the festival to take place.
Then, throughout the lead up to the event itself, a steady stream of perfectly posed posts appeared of the influencers on sandy beaches, private planes, and luxury cabanas. They did a fantastic job of making this look like the hottest event of the year - a truly luxurious music festival for the cool, millennial crowd.
In fact, in the same pitch deck, the organizers claimed that their first post gained over 3 million unique impressions thanks to the one and the only Instagram queen herself - Kendall Jenner. All the partnered influencers were posting about how excited they were to attend the festival, some merely receiving free tickets, travel, and accommodation, and some being paid the big bucks. Kendall Jenner alone was reportedly paid a whopping $250,000 for her participation in the campaign.
What went wrong?
In terms of an influencer marketing campaign - absolutely nothing at all went wrong. The selected influencers reached the perfect target market, tickets were sold, and people were excited about the prospect of attending.
The problems came when those excited ticket-holders arrived at the festival.
The celebrity chef-catered meals turned out to be nothing more than cheese sandwiches in styrofoam containers. The luxury cabanas were disaster-relief tents. Their headline act - Blink 182 - canceled. There were no lights. They ran out of water. People were stranded on the island. Even the medical team went missing. Everything that could go wrong did. And in the world of social media, everyone was talking about it.
The majority of the influencers involved in the campaign swiftly deleted their promotional posts (most of which weren’t even labeled as such) and swept the whole situation under the rug. Understandably, people were not very happy. Many of them had forked out thousands of dollars for tickets to the festival, only to be met with something so far from what they were promised, it was almost comical.
People were feeling betrayed by influencers that they had idolized, and marketers were entering into a stage of worried panic that the world of influencer marketing as we knew it was dead. But, as it turns out, it wasn’t as dramatic as all that after all.
The weekend of the Fyre Festival blew up social media as attendees live posted the string of disasters and disappointments they were met with - many trying to see the humor in their situation, and providing endless entertainment for those of us who now felt lucky we hadn’t splurged on tickets.
The case of the disappearing posts
Right after news of the failed event began to spread, influencers were deleting all evidence of their involvement making the whole situation seem even shadier than it already was.
Bella Hadid did issue an apology - sort of - for her involvement in the campaign, but all the other influencers involved kept schtum and continued with their beautiful lives as if nothing had ever happened. But then again, should the influencers be held responsible for the festival's failure? They were sold a rose-tinted version of the event, which they then passed on to their followers. How were they to know it would turn out to be such a disaster?
Maybe the influencers are not to blame. But, being such big names with such impressionable followings - many were less than happy that they all refused to acknowledge that anything had even happened.
Those same disgruntled festival-goers also made sure that the organizers knew just how unhappy they were. The festival organizer Billy McFarland ended up facing nine separate lawsuits, an FBI investigation, and up to 20 years in prison for wire fraud. Probably not the outcome he was hoping for.
Both ticket-holders and investors were filing suits claiming they had been victims of fraud and misrepresentation, leading McFarland to be arrested and faced with potentially millions of dollars worth of payouts.
And, most importantly for those considering running their own influencer marketing campaigns, at least one of those lawsuits was explicitly related to the use of influencers, and their failure to comply with FTC regulations - the majority of posts did not disclose their sponsored status, failing to include the FTC required hashtag #ad.
But, this was a whole year ago now. Since then, the FTC have introduced new rules and regulations that influencers must follow when posting sponsored content. Keeping your brand FTC-compliant when engaging in campaigns will help both you and your influencers to avoid similar legal issues.
On the other side of the argument, people have even opined that the influencers themselves could also consider applying for some form of compensation, due to the possible damage the disaster will have had on their personal brands.
The end of influencer marketing?
As soon as the news broke about the festival’s #fail, online magazines and blogs everywhere began to proclaim that “The influencer bubble will totally collapse in the next 12 months”, “Fyre Festival may be the death knell for influencers”, and other, similarly damning headlines.
And it wasn’t a surprise. The failure of the festival was a big news, big bucks story and they needed someone to blame. Of course, the real culprits were the event organizers who failed to ensure the festival was able to run, but the public didn’t know anything about them. They were the faceless men of the Fyre Festival. Instead, people turned their gaze to the faces they knew all too well, and the platform they were using.
Social media was beginning to turn against itself in a strange - and very meta - turn of events. Somebody even set up a Twitter account for people to communicate about the festival’s disastrous fall from grace, and discuss class-action lawsuits, which was aptly named - @FyreFraud. Followers were urging any of the influencers who were yet to delete their sponsored posts to do so as soon as possible, helping them to hide their involvement. It sent everyone into a kind of frenzy.
The scale of the disaster left many wondering if this would be the end of the road for influencer marketing as we knew it. The platform had lost the trust of its devoted followers, could these mega-influencers ever be trusted again?
The short answer? Yes.
It is relatively safe to say that influencer marketing isn’t going anywhere, at least not anytime soon.
All those who worried about the complete break down of influencer marketing forgot one very simple fact - consumer just aren’t responding to traditional marketing in the way they used to. With online streaming services growing in popularity day by day, traditional TV marketing isn’t getting the same exposure that it used to. And, 47% of 18-24-year-olds now install ad blockers on their computers, meaning the majority of web ads aren’t being seen by their most significant potential audience either.
Influencer marketing, on the other hand, manages to fly past these barriers, giving brands continual organic reach that targets their desired audience efficiently. And it would seem, that one year on, most people have forgotten about the Fyre Festival fiasco entirely.
The rise of the micro-influencer
But, while we may have forgotten about it on the surface, the ripples it sent out have still made differences to the way influencer marketing campaigns run. One of the most prevalent of these changes is the rise and rise of micro-influencers.
These smaller accounts often appear more trustworthy to their audiences, as they feel more like “regular people.” The Fyre Starters were made up of some of the most prominent accounts on social media, and in the wake of such a disaster, micro-influencers suddenly seemed like much more reliable sources for advertising.
But, this change hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. We’ve seen some micro-influencers charging vast amounts of money for sponsored posts, and while they may appear to be more trustworthy, they just don’t have the reach to charge such large amounts.
More transparency in campaigns
One of the more serious problems with the influencer marketing of the Fyre Festival was how the sponsored posts did not meet the FTC guidelines. The Federal Trade Commission is around to make sure the competition is fair between brands in the online market, and that all advertising carried out on social media remains ethical.
The FTC has previously sent out letters of warning to numerous big-name celebrities warning them about their conduct on this matter. As time goes on, and influencer marketing grows in popularity, these guidelines are likely to become stricter and more harshly enforced.
But, don’t think of this as a bad thing. These guidelines are in place to help both consumers and brands. People like transparency. They’ve spent too many years seeing airbrushed photos in magazines, and being told they should look the same. People have had enough of being tricked into things. This transparency is why influencers are disrupting the marketing world - they don’t cover things up.
The effect on the mega-influencers
As with many things nowadays, most people were quick to forget the mistakes made by the mega-influencers involved in this campaign. At the end of the day, those involved were still high-profile, celebrity influencers with huge followings - brands love them.
Celebrity endorsement is not a new idea. Since the 1930’s, famous faces have been used as brand ambassadors to help promote and sell products to the general public. And throughout the years, there has been more than one occasion where these endorsements were met with some form of controversy.
Celebrities often fall in and out of the public’s good graces, for a variety of reasons, and while they may receive backlash for failed campaigns, it never sticks around for long. Think about one of the Fyre Starter’s other recent campaigns - Kendall Jenner and THAT Pepsi Ad.
Has her following dipped? No. Have people stopped buying Pepsi? No. Give any marketing faux-pas a few weeks, and they will have been forgotten as the next controversy takes over. The same can be said for the Fyre Festival.
So, what has all this taught us?
The power of influencer marketing
People were left stranded on an island, locked in rooms with no air conditioning or water, all because of a hugely successful influencer marketing campaign - and the after effects were minimal. Campaigns didn’t suddenly come to a screeching halt, and Instagram didn’t crash from being inundated with complaints. Everything pretty much carried on as usual for the industry as a whole.
But, one thing that hasn't been discussed as much as the failure of the Fyre Festival is its success. Nobody had heard of this festival before, it was a brand new product and tickets were extremely expensive. But, the marketing team knew exactly what they needed to do, and perfected their marketing strategy. They turned a small-time event into a worldwide conversation that everyone wanted to be a part of.
The 2017 event sold 5000 tickets, purely through the power of influencer marketing. They showed an excellent understanding of the platform - they couldn’t fall back on their own name, so they invested in someone else’s.
Influencer marketing is continuing to grow from strength to strength as more and more brands begin to invest serious time and money into it. And, most importantly, they see results. And it seems as if the influencer marketing train has no plans to slow down over the next few years either.
Here at The Shelf, we have seen an increase in the number of both brands and influencer coming to our platform, and have helped create many new partnerships and campaigns because of this. As it continues to become more evident to brands that the millennial audience just isn’t interested in traditional marketing - they have to shuffle their priorities to grow their business.
The stability of the platform
None of the influencers involved in the Fyre Festival marketing campaign have suffered any real or long-lasting damage to their followings or their personal brands. Despite everything that happened - people still trust them. But, why?
According to a Nielsen study carried out around the time of the Fyre Festival, 92% of consumers trust “earned media” - such as word of mouth, or recommendations of products from family and friends - more than any other form of advertising. And that is essentially what the success of influencer marketing boils down to.
People like to feel that they’re choosing something that isn’t being pushed on to them. Influencer marketing is more subtle than a giant billboard with red letters that you avoid looking at every time you drive past. And, with such a high percentage, that won’t be changing anytime soon.
And hey, even the Fyre Festival itself is attempting to bounce back after it’s disastrous debut. As part of its attempt to appease 2017’s festival goers - it offered free tickets to this year's event as compensation. And, while they have announced they won’t be doing it all themselves this year - there hasn’t been as big a run up to it as before. In fact, the last announcements they made about it (at the time of going to print) date back to May 2017.
Just remember, the power that influencer marketing holds in today’s digital world can be a fantastic tool for your brand. Just make sure you don’t use it to spread false promises and trickery, and you’ll be reaping the rewards in no time.