The Rise and Fall of Fyre Festival: An Introduction

Like a rollercoaster, Fyre Festival had a swift climb and a steep drop — only nobody looks back on it with thrilling fondness. The public and real-time downfall of Fyre Festival in May 2017 has had such a resounding cultural effect, that nearly two years later we’ve had trials, prison sentences, and two documentaries released. The recent resurgence of the over-the-top fiasco brings up questions that we’ve had time to mull over and find answers to that we maybe didn’t have 21 months ago.

Assuming that you haven’t been living under a rock in the past couple of years – or even months with the release of the competing Netflix and Hulu documentaries – then you’re probably familiar with the festival itself. Marketed on social media as a luxury music festival, guests spent thousands of dollars on tickets and airfare to experience paradise. Instead, upon arrival, guests found disaster shelters instead of luxury tents, cheap cafeteria food in lieu of Michelin-star catering, and no headlining acts. The festival’s steep descent into chaos, and the CEO’s subsequent trial and prison sentence, have made it one of the most public and epic failures in recent memory.


Influencer Marketing, The Fyre Fest Way

Apart from its overall utter failure – of which the fall and complete implosion was captured in real time on social media by attendees  – the festival is most notorious for its use of celebrity influencers to raise awareness and hype. And while we ultimately wouldn’t recommend any of their business practices, Fyre Festival influencers did teach us a thing or two about the effectiveness of certain strategies, and maybe even changed influencer marketing forever.

Organizers almost exclusively used influencers in order to sell tickets to Fyre Festival. One promotional video featuring celebrity models including Bella Hadid and Hailey Baldwin, and an orange tile posted by even more (including Kendall Jenner for a reported fee of $250K for the single Instagram post) were all it took to make Fyre seem like the sensation of the year. So how did it work (and did it)?


FOMO and WOM Marketing 101

Fyre relied heavily on FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) marketing, or using social pressure and the fear of not being included in a shared experience to incentivize people to purchase tickets to a brand new event nobody knew anything about. It is especially effective with the Millennial crowd, according to a study conducted by Eventbrite, 69% of Millennials report experiencing FOMO. Fyre Festival capitalized on this fear by making it seem like everyone who’s someone (at least on Instagram) would be there. How could you miss out?

Additionally, while ideal word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing incurs little-to-no cost, Fyre paid a lot of money for its word of mouth marketing (remember that $250K bill paid to Kendall Jenner?). Fyre managed to promote its festival by drumming up interest and excitement by filming one promotional video, and by having influencers post an orange tile. It’s pretty amazing the amount of tickets they were able to sell while revealing little to no factual information about the festival itself. They effectively built hype without any substance, and rode it all the way to the end.

Beyond avoiding shady business practices and pyramid schemes, we also learned a few things about influencer marketing, and potentially the way it’s changed the way we’ll use influencers going forward.


It’s Popular, but Did It Work?

A strategy that Fyre Festival used to get attention successfully, and eventually was criticized for, was the use of high-profile influencers. These celebrity influencers such as Kendall Jenner, the Hadid sisters, and others have followers in the tens of millions, even upwards of 100 million. Their reach is undeniable, but is it effective?

As it turns out, not really. Of its 40,000 tickets, Fyre Festival was only able to sell around 8,000, and most at a discounted rate. So while everyone was talking about it, and they’d spent hundreds of millions of dollars, very few of their impressions converted to actual sales. And without sales, it’s no wonder paradise turned out to be a giant flop.


The Takeaway

The biggest lesson we’ve taken away from Fyre Festival is the underrated power of the micro-influencer. While it would seem that the collective reach of celebrity macro-influencers would have a big return on investment, at least in the case of Fyre Festival, they delivered a lot of hype with little return on investment.

Micro-influencers – which depending on your brand and budget could mean a lot of things – typically sit in the 100K or less follower range. And while their reach may be more limited than a celebrity, it actually can be more impactful. Micro-influencers tend to have more niche audiences who follow them for a specific reason. Their audiences typically don’t follow them because they’re famous – they follow them because they relate to and therefore engage with the influencer’s content. While Kendall Jenner may be talking to 100M+ fans, very few of them probably had any real interest in buying tickets to Fyre Festival in the first place.  

These smaller influencers also tend to be seen as having more credibility amongst their audience. When we work with micro-influencers here at ISL, we choose people who have at some point engaged with the brand before of their own accord. We know they are loyal fans themselves, as do their audiences, and so any promotion they put on their feed hits home as a viable recommendation. By comparison, a celebrity influencer usually hasn’t developed this level of trust with their audience, and so their recommendations can often fall flat. Fans are often following them because of their celebrité, not their expertise in a certain area.

So what does this mean going forward? Are influencer strategies dead thanks to the Fyre Festival catastrophe? That would be a resounding no – they’ve just changed. Instead of overspending for the reach, consider partnering with niche, credible micro-influencers to get more bang for your buck. That also doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye to macro- or celebrity influencers forever, either. Instead, use them more sparingly and strategically to reach large audiences and build awareness for your campaign. A campaign with a strategic mix of macro- and micro- influencers may not seem as glamorous as an all-celebrity tactic, but the ROI and lasting partnerships are far more worthwhile.