Fyre Festival: Influencer Paradise Lost

By Babs Watson, Director of Brand and Content, Launch,

You will have heard the descriptions of the Fyre Festival by now; ‘When Hunger Games met Coachella’, ‘Lord of the Flies with Instagram’, or my personal favourite; ‘Like the Trump administration – a mess made up of frat boys, who were trying to pull off a house party that outsized them.’ And if you haven’t heard of it (do you even work in PR?) get yourself to Netflix and download Netflix’s Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never Happened. It’s a 90- minute pure PR horror /comedy show, and it makes for compelling viewing.

As more of my friends get around to watching it, it’s dominated our What’s App chat. Mostly we debate ‘What happened to Ja Rule?’ and ‘Are Blink 182 still a thing?’ But it keeps coming back to the same question – always directed at me – how did this get so far and why did nobody stop it?

How did a festival for 6,000 people billed as ‘the cultural experience of the decade’ get to opening day with no accommodation for guests, no working infrastructure, no headline acts and no food? A delusional CEO, a bunch of yes men, a yacht full of supermodels and the power of Instagram – that’s how.

Tickets to Fyre Festival were sold off the back of influencer advocacy and savvy social media. I remember seeing the orange square teasers crop up on my Instagram feed. I remember the Daily Mail pawing over pictures of Bella Hadid, Hailey Baldwin and Kendall Jenner sunbathing together on a yacht which they’d posted to promote it on Instagram. The Fyre promo video of a bevy of beautiful people snorkelling with swimming pigs sold an aspiration. You too could party like a Kardashian in the Bahamas with Blink 182… But what was promoted as paradise quickly descended into hell as the organisers failed to uphold any of their promises. It was fraud (or ‘false advertising’ as Ja Rule tried to spin it).

The question I’ve been asking myself is what responsibility, if any, the influencers had to play in this. Were they ignorant of the depths of deception Fyre has descended into, or did they spot that it was destined for failure and simply trade cash for hashtags? Most of them have distanced themselves from it since, others have issued apologies but clarified they were unaware of how far Fyre had strayed from its original pitch. But in any influencer partnership there needs to be total transparency between partners and each side should have full disclosure of what is being promoted and how. But it also pulls into question whether one off posts and endorsements have a place on social or can be totally trusted.

At Launch we’re big believers in longer term partnerships with influencers. They become co-creators and help us shape the messaging and the creative we put out on behalf of a brand. When they are invested in the input they should be equally invested in the outcome, and their followers will, I hope, see a brand or product they too can believe in. So, less smoke and mirrors please.

If Fyre has taught us one thing it’s that deception, deliberate or not, will only leave everyone burned.

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