As the owner of an influencer marketing agency, I’m well aware that hiccups are an inevitable part of a campaign activation from time to time. Yet, even if you were to combine every incident I’ve seen, collectively they all still pale in comparison to what happened with the Fyre Festival fiasco.
Recently, the internet has been in a tizzy over the Fyre Festival documentaries on Netflix and Hulu (yes, two different documentaries about the same incident). If you’re unfamiliar with this cringe-worthy story, the Reader’s Digest version is that Billy McFarland, a serial “entrepreneur,” planned an ostentatious luxury music festival in the Bahamas in order to promote his new entertainment app.
For promotion, McFarland and his business partner, rapper Ja Rule, enlisted some of the top social media influencers and international models to film a teaser video in hopes it would generate buzz and drive ticket sales. With the help of Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid and several others, the Fyre Festival appeared that it would be one of the most elite music festivals in history, complete with private villas, A-list musical performances and lavish food and drink. People paid thousands of dollars for what they thought would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to frolic on a private island (previously owned by Pablo Escobar) with their favorite influencers.
On the contrary, this “festival” ended up being one of the most catastrophic events in entertainment history due to McFarland overpromising to both investors and consumers. Instead of luxury villas, attendees were greeted with shabby tents left over from a hurricane. Instead of gourmet cuisine, the food was subpar even compared to what you’d find in a school cafeteria. And the musical performances? The performers all backed out.
This is a very oversimplified explanation of all that went wrong and the ramifications that followed. But nevertheless, it still proves these three truths about the influencer marketing industry:
1. Influencer marketing works.
Love it or hate it, this festival wouldn’t have sold tickets the way it did if it weren’t for the influence of social media and the influencers who promoted this festival on their platforms. McFarland provided no photos of the actual accommodations, but simply by having top-tier influencers post a mysterious orange square with the hashtag #FyreFestival, the concept spread like wildfire.
While this particular instance showed the negative repercussions of what can happen when power is used irresponsibly, you can’t deny that influencer marketing can be a very powerful tool that prompts consumers to take action when they hear your message.
2. Brands and influencers must do their research.
Would the Fyre Festival have had the same outcome if brand partners and influencers had exerted a bit more due diligence? Maybe. Maybe not. But one thing is for sure: The people involved in this particular festival are being questioned about how they remained complicit in a system that was broken.
A valuable lesson for brands and influencers everywhere is to do your research before proceeding with a partnership. Is this brand I’m promoting valid, trustworthy and doing what they claim they’ll do? Similarly: Is this influencer I’m following or having promote my brand someone who values authenticity and trust with their audience, or will they push anything for the right dollar amount?
At our agency, we spend days validating qualified candidates’ content on a very deep level for our clients’ campaigns. Prior to qualifying them for a campaign, consider variables like the kinds of comments on their posts and engagement rates based on their audience size. Also, look for any signs that they may have purchased likes or followers.
3. Risks in this industry are ever-present.
Sure, this industry is rapidly evolving. But the fact that something like this can happen proves we are in need of more accountability to mitigate the obvious risks at hand. Many brands and influencers are negotiating their own partnership terms every day, yet without proper terms, neither party is properly protected.
The FTC continues to crack down on regulations to try to prevent situations exactly like this from happening. But both influencers and brands should proceed with caution if they try to lead these matters on their own. Influencer agencies and other third parties that specialize in these partnerships can help provide valuable expertise so processes run seamlessly for everyone involved.
For those handling the negotiations on their own terms, consider running smaller test campaigns with new influencers to see how things go before investing larger dollar amounts into partnerships that could prove to be less than what you hoped for.
While the festival was a dismal portrayal of the power influencer marketing can have, it still proves to us that this tactic works. And if we can get better systems in place, it can work for far better causes.