Six Lessons for Marketers from the Fyre Festival Disaster

The story of the Fyre Festival, which didn’t take place as scheduled in the spring of 2017, is so compelling that it’s the subject of Netflix and Hulu documentaries released within days of each other. It’s a mind-blowing tale of what can happen when the power of experience marketing is harnessed for nefarious purposes. It’s a story that should never be emulated. But it is also a story we can learn from. Here are six lessons we took away from the Fyre Festival documentaries:

1. Experience marketing is extremely powerful…
If we had any doubts that associating an experience with a product is a very potent marketing strategy, especially for targeting millennials, Fyre Festival’s marketing put them to rest. Even though the experience ostensibly being sold was a concert, promotional materials focused on other (imaginary) experiences for attendees, including jet-skiing with supermodels and the chance to win a treasure hunt. Eight thousand people were convinced to buy tickets that ranged from $450 for a day pass to $3,995 for “curated tent accommodations” to $250,000 for villas.

2. …but you have to deliver the promised experience
Job one in experience marketing is to deliver what you promise and to say the Fyre Festival failed to do that may be the understatement of the millennium. That failure was chronicled by deservedly disgruntled attendees in videos and photographs shared countless times on social channels and in news media reports. As a result, the Fyre brand immediately became associated with fraud and disaster, rather than the “transformative experience” it promised. Fyre’s organizers knew they were overpromising (and one is incarcerated because of it), but even the most well-intentioned marketers risk watching their credibility vanish if they fail to deliver.

3. At least one influencer was probably overpaid
The Fyre Festival tried to leverage the social media clout of influencers including Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner. The latter reportedly was paid $250,000 for one Instagram post. And her single post, combined with the grand failure of the Fyre Festival, may have forever altered influencer culture.

4. FOMO can indeed drive interest
FOMO could have been the Fyre Festival’s middle name. There was a countdown showcased on the festival’s website, so time was always running out. In marketing materials, the Sandal’s resort literally next door to the festival site was cropped out to make the location appear more remote and thus more exclusive. And the organizers offered a (largely bogus) selection of “limited availability” luxury housing.

5. A simple graphic can have a big impact
The festival’s social media gurus came up with a successful way to introduce the festival that relied on a simple orange square and a very well-coordinated launch. At the same time on the appointed day, Fyre’s influencers, including Jenner, posted the square, which immediately cut through social’s visual noise. Clicking the square started the festival’s promotional video, which featured those jet-skiing supermodels and grand promises.

6. You have to own your mistakes
The festival organizers knew before the start date that they had a disaster on their hands, but they did not warn off their customers. “One of the biggest lessons we can all learn from the Fyre Festival is to admit, and own, your mistakes,” writes Justine Timoteo at Impact. “Apologize for any wrongdoing and establish a plan to rectify the situation as best as possible. This will humanize your brand and set your business apart from others that tend to stay silent, or point the finger at someone else, and can help salvage your brand in the public eye.”