What We Can Learn From One of the Worst PR Disasters in History
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April 28, 2021 marked the four year anniversary of the world’s biggest festival flop, Fyre Festival. It was the most talked-about event in 2017 for all the wrong reasons. What was advertised as a luxury music festival on a private island, in reality, was the complete opposite. The catastrophe received even more attention when Netflix released a documentary on the event titled FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened.
The festival was founded by Billy McFarland, CEO of Fyre Media Inc, and rapper Ja Rule. It was organized for the purpose of promoting the company’s Fyre app for booking music talent, scheduled to take place on April 28-30 as well as May 5-7, 2017. Social media influencers such as Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, Hailey Balwdin and others promoted the festival on Instagram (who did not initially disclose they were paid to do so) as an immerse music festival. This was a huge matter in question when guests arrived on the island and the three-day-party influencers were promoting, wasn’t really a party at all.
Because these influencers did not mention their promotional Instagram posts were paid advertisements, this left the public to believe the festival was an organic endorsement as opposed to a marketing strategy. The festival was targeted towards the millennial demographic which made influencer marketing successful. They were the prime spokesperson with the ability to engage their intended audience. Within the first 24 hours of the release of their campaign, their posts accumulated over 300 million impressions. Festivalgoers bought tickets priced anywhere from $500 to $100,000, including the cost of gourmet meals and luxury, eco-friendly domes, and villas to stay in. Instead of domes and villas, guests walked up to wet mattresses and hurricane tents; and for the meals? Far from gourmet. They received pre-packaged sandwiches. Not only were these accommodations disappointing, to say the least, as guests were arriving the festival was canceled altogether.
Before the start of the festival McFarland’s original plan to have the event on a private island backfired and was rescheduled to take place on an abandoned resort development. He was kicked off of the private island in the Bahamas where guests were still under the impression they were being taken to. The change was never announced, leaving his team with under two weeks to make something out of nothing and epically failed. To make matters worse, the artists said to be performing at the festival all pulled out. Within these two weeks, guests were also asked to pre-load money onto digital wristbands that would serve the purpose of a wallet. This was a tactic used to retrieve cash to make up for lost money in an attempt to still host the festival despite not being prepared.
Image from Vice
As you can imagine, festival-goers were aggravated beyond belief. One problem after the other left guests stranded on unfamiliar territory with no direction or supplies to best suit their circumstances. McFarland made every possible move to avoid bad PR, but it was inevitable once he attempted to cover his tracks. The entirety of the catastrophe could have been avoided from the beginning if he was honest about the situation. An article from CNBC states, “The disastrous Fyre Festival spawned lawsuits against the event’s organizers, who included Ja Rule and Fyre Media CEO Billy McFarland, the latter of whom is now serving a six-year prison sentence for fraud.” Instead of focusing on consumer satisfaction they were greedy, too consumed by results.
Although utilizing influencers to promote the festival garnered the attention they wanted, from the outcome of this disaster, one can recognize the importance of authenticity and honesty when it comes to upholding brands. Admitting mistakes and owning them is the best way to handle a crisis. Instead of attempting to cover up the mistakes, apologize for them. An apology will cause less media backlash as opposed to hidden agendas. Transparency is key.
To watch the Fyre Festival announcement video click the image below:
Written by: Samantha Morris