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Fyre Festival: The Power of Social Media Marketing

February 11, 2019 Julia Motis

festivalRecently, two highly-anticipated documentaries were released on Hulu and Netflix about the fiasco that was the Fyre Festival.

For those who don’t know the story, a 27-year-old named Billy McFarland teamed up with famous rapper Ja Rule to create what they marketed as a premiere, exclusive, “immersive” music festival on a private island in the Bahamas. For price tags upwards of $12,000, attendees could get the VIP treatment, staying in luxury villas, seeing the hottest musical artists of today and eating gourmet food supposedly catered by Steven Starr – all while enjoying a tropical getaway.

But what ticket-buyers didn’t know is that the whole event was made up. They arrived to the island to find it run-down and deserted with nothing but half-put-together disaster relief tents, portable toilets and a makeshift stage. It quickly became the attendees worst nightmares. 

The whole thing was a genius ploy to make money, and sadly, it worked.

While I would never condone conning thousands of people out of their life savings, any PR or marketing professional has to admit that their promotional tactics were commendable.

They had stunning visuals. The minute the promo video hit the public, it was clear the marketing team knew what they were doing. It boasts captivatingly blue water, sunny skies and warm sand. It depicts men and women zooming on boats, drinking fancy cocktails and eating gourmet food. It teases the familiar excitement of a great concert, and watchers can almost feel like they are on that island with all those pretty people. There’s no doubt that on the surface level, this festival looked like the place to be.

They built a strong brand. A good-looking, young guy and a well-known rapper created a duo that was irresistible to music fans and avid festival-goers. The event organizers knew their target audience well – maybe too well – appealing to Millennial consumers by hyping the event with promises of exclusivity, adventure and excitement, while still managing to shroud it in an air of mystery. They made promises that were just shy of wild, so they were believable but wrapped in a sensation of prestige, like this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And their social media accounts only served to reinforce it all.

They partnered with influencers. Many of them were household names, like Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner. An estimated 400 “Fyre Starters,” as they were called, were roped into hyping the event across their social media accounts. If everything potential attendees had already seen wasn’t enough to persuade them, their favorite celebrity telling them to go definitely put them over the edge.   

They convinced thousands. The whole thing was a genius ploy to make money, and sadly, it worked.

However, something to keep in mind is that as quickly as the festival sent the internet abuzz with talk leading up to the festival, the internet also became its undoing. The minute those fans saw the stark reality of their money going down the tubes, they took to social media to document every. single. fraudulent. detail. It would prove to be detrimental to the festival’s organizers in the end.

Now the Fyre Festival will go down in history as one of the worst (and best) social media scams of all time. Heck, almost two years later, people are still talking about how bad it was, and making money off of it, with these two documentaries and more. It just goes to show how a social media campaign, when put together in just the right way, can have a lasting impact.

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