I, like many of you, have been watching the fall-out from the #FyreFestival in real time. And if you’re anything like me, you’ve been positively giddy. It’s not often that you see such an epic fail unfold in real time like we did for Fyre Festival. Each tweet from attendees made me laugh a little more — the “luxury tents” which were more like disaster relief tents, the comparisons to Lord of the Flies, those sandwiches! (dear God, those sandwiches). As more and more information came out, the situation got that much funnier to me. Wait Ja Rule’s involved and Blink-182? Is it 1998 — where’s Carson Daly and TRL? The organizer’s name is Billy McFarland and he’s being dubbed as a possible scam artist. Stop, you’re killing me. To say I’ve gotten my jollies off of this whole situation would be putting it mildly.
I’ve been gobbling up any and everything I could find about this doomed festival and then I came across their pitch deck to investors. And while the situation is still hilarious, this started to highlight some things that are incredibly problematic and which also shine a spotlight on the digital marketing industry as a whole. According to the Vanity Fair article, the Fyre Festival team leaned heavily on an influencer marketing strategy to get the word out about the event and help drive ticket sales:
As the investor deck notes, and one person who was pitched by the organizers told me, the Fyre Squad (yes, I just wrote that) had recruited over 400 Fyre Starters (ugh) with mass followings on social media (mostly Instagram and Twitter) to share promotional videos and photos of the Fyre Festival and say how excited they were to attend. In exchange, the Fyre Starters, which included names like Kendall Jenner, Emily Ratajkowski, and Nick Bateman, were offered free flights, accommodations, and tickets to the event, which ranged in price from $1,500 to $12,500 for people who were not Fyre Starters (some ticket packages surpassed $100,000). Some of the more influential influencers (a little part of me dies inside every time I type that word) require being paid for these kinds of promotions, too.
It’s probably time for Kendall Jenner to re-evaluate some things.
This is an incredibly common practice and there are entire agencies dedicated to influencer marketing and legions of people working hard to be considered influencers. So much so that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has very explicit rules around how you can advertise for brands online so that you’re not deceiving your audience. It has to be crystal clear that an influencer is being paid to shill the product or service so things like #sp (for sponsored), burying your #sponsored hashtag among a million other hashtags or simply saying ‘Thanks @brand’ are no longer going to cut it. Almost none of the 400 Fyre Starters disclosed that they were being paid to advertise the festival and all of them immediately deleted their posts once it was clear that the event was going to be a disaster.
How often is this same thing happening on a smaller scale with brands and influencers literally selling nothing? Or not being clear about what they’ve been paid so that they’d endorse the brand? Or worse, not even really being 100% behind the brand, endorsing it and then making their endorsement disappear like Keyser Söze when things go left?
No one’s buying that.
Consumers are incredibly savvy and can usually tell when they’re being sold to. The last thing anyone wants is to feel like they were tricked into buying your product or service. Influencer marketing is an effective tool to include in your overall marketing toolkit but you want to make sure you’re approaching these relationships with authenticity, transparency and integrity. You don’t want to end up being the next Fyre Festival. Because let’s be real, if you do, I will laugh at you.