Social Marketing Success = Fyre Festival Fail

The recent events that unfolded at a highly advertised music and arts festival may show just how far people are willing to go (literally) when prompted by their favorite celebrities and influencers.

Fyre Festival was meant to be a flashy and luxurious music, food and arts festival held over two weekends on the island of Exuma, a district of the Bahamas. Social media influencers and well-known celebrities, such as Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner, Chanel Iman and Emily Ratajkowski, all supported the event through social media endorsements and promotional videos, many of which have since been removed.

Dressed in their most Instagram-worthy attire, excited festival-goers arrived on the island only to be greeted by a less-than-glamorous scene. Half-built tents on the sand, mishandled luggage, unhelpful staff, minimal security, scarce food supply and unsafe conditions are just some of the unexpected disappointments that came along with the high-ticket prices of the Fyre Festival (some tickets were upwards of $12,000). What was promised to be two weekends of great music, beautiful scenery, tasty cuisine and celebrity appearances, quickly turned into a site of mass chaos, as attendees sought to leave the island.

So, what can we learn from what recently has been dubbed the #FyreFail?

The dangers of trusting paid endorsements

While we often see our favorite celebrities endorsing products and events, it’s important to keep in mind that, in most cases, these are paid product placements. No matter how happy our favorite Instagram influencers seem to be while using a product or attending an event, be cautious of what he or she has received in return for the post. Unfortunately, in the case of the Fyre Festival, trusting fans and followers were misled to an event that the influencers on their news feeds had no base to back up. It’s safe to say they’ll all be more thoughtful with their endorsements from now on.

Advertising goes a long way

On a positive note, the Fyre Festival incident did teach us just how impactful successful marketing and advertising can be. While the event could not substantiate any of the claims in its marketing, it did get hundreds of people to purchase high-priced tickets for music on a private island in the Bahamas. That’s a successful call-to-action for something that turned out to be an unfortunate disappointment. So, while paid endorsements on social media may be sticky waters, they do seem to work, giving hope to advertisers who are utilizing the strategy.

Social media serves a swift backlash

As we’ve learned in recent months, companies dropping the ball on customer service or quality will most likely be met with widespread reprimand. The events that took place on a now infamous United Airlines flight reminded us that, in the world of social media, nothing goes unnoticed or undocumented. Customers are quick to reveal any dissatisfaction to their social following, which can go viral in a matter of seconds. In the case of the Fyre Festival, rightfully dissatisfied customers shared minute-by-minute updates on their experiences upon arriving at the event. Newsfeeds were flooded with photos of the poor conditions offered on the island as followers shared the posts that have now become a viral sensation. The upside? Companies are more inclined to step up their customer service policies and go the extra mile to ensure safety and quality.

Mistakes happen – it’s how you respond that matters

It’s safe to say that those who endorsed the Fyre Festival are now feeling the guilt from their faithful followers. While the past can’t be changed, these influencers do have control over their response to the situation; and this may be the most critical part of the timeline. Taking responsibility for the mistake can go a long way, rather than placing the blame on their own misfortunes regarding the event. Although they also were not aware of the festival’s shortcomings, they are responsible for blindly supporting the event to their followers. Owning up to the fault and exhibiting a genuine empathy for those who were affected can take a damaging mark on one’s reputation and make it positive.

The aftermath

After the first day, it was announced that the Fyre Festival was to be postponed and attendees were eventually flown back to the U.S. One of the event’s first and most prominent supporters, model Bella Hadid, issued a statement addressing the misfortunes at the festival. While she did note that her intentions were genuine, she apologized for outwardly supporting something she could not stand by. Event promoters, businessman Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule, are now the subjects of a $100 million lawsuit in the state of California with more than 150 plaintiffs. The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism apologized on behalf of the nation and denied all responsibility, as it was not an official sponsor of the event.

The now-infamous Fyre Festival, which has been compared to scenes out of The Hunger Games and Lord of the Flies, can teach us a lot about the impact of social media and the influence celebrity endorsements can have. While it is an unfortunate series of events for all who were involved, the lessons learned remind us all that we can’t believe everything we see on our newsfeeds.

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Innovate or stay the course – a media planner’s thought process


A media planner’s main goal is to make sure brands stand apart from their competition. In the pay-to-play world we live in, sometimes brands must differentiate to succeed. Looking for a disruptive and immediate – yet risky – path to take to achieve success quickly? Create radically innovative campaigns.

Media planning is a strategic, collaborative process. Once the research is complete, the target audience defined and budget confirmed, it is time to craft an innovative plan that will take the brand from how it is currently perceived (or lack thereof) to how it wants its consumers to view it.

But wait.

Drastic innovation is expensive, risky and time-consuming. Larger brands have an innovation strategy for their media activities. According to industry sources, a leading beverage company allocates 70 percent of their media budget to proven media campaigns – continuing what is working and optimizing it. Another 20 percent is allocated to innovation – new enhancements in their plans year-over-year. The final 10 percent is reserved for revolutionary ideas – high-risk, high-reward. This strategy ensures the brand’s media endeavors remain successful, even if all test-and-learn tactics fail.

This strategy is taking off with other brands with similar goals. However, for brands with smaller media budgets, this strategy may not be the best use of resources. Not all brands can risk nearly one-third of their budget on unproven ideas. What’s more, brands with smaller budgets may not be able to afford to spread their budget to test various new tactics. What is a brand to do?

If event marketing works for your brand, stay the course – optimizing each event along the way to continually improve your ROI. Moreover, if you see that educational videos are moving the needle for your competitors, find a way to do it better and win back your audience (and part of their audience, too!).

Within the often-risky space of innovation lies the beauty of working with a media planning department at an agency — we can do the heavy lifting by weighing the odds of a media plan’s effectiveness using industry market research and campaign analytics. Whether your brand is staying the course, drastically evolving or both, we can help make an informed decision, driven by market research and years of experience.

There is a time and a place for innovation. But there are also tried and true ways to get your brand in front of the right people, at the right time, efficiently and effectively, at the budget you desire.

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