Marketing Lessons to Learn from Fyre Festival Fraud


You may have forgotten about the biggest fraud in music festival history, but the internet sure hasn’t. This week, there were not one, but two documentaries out about Fyre Festival, the ultimate FOMO-inducing, pie-in-the-sky musical festival:

On Hulu: Fyre Fraud

On Netflix: Fyre: The Greatest Party that ever Happened but proceed with caution as this version of the documentary was produced by @fuckjerry media, who was associated with (cough cough running) the social media for the festival.

Although ‘epic fail’ and ‘total scam’ only BEGIN to cover the controversy that was dubbed Millennial Woodstock, there are some great marketing lessons to learn from all of this.


'People love to see Rich Millennials having a Horrible Time’

The whole reason this documentary was made was to showcase disaster, but as a society we have turned watching people burn (pun intended) into a spectator sport. My generation (millennials), have grown up in a culture where watching the downfall of celebs is a cultural norm and a monetized entertainment (i.e. the great Britney Spears breakdown of 2007), so it’s no surprise that the Fyre Fraud documentary scratched the same itch.

But there is something about millennial-ness that is so easy to hate. Entitled? Sure. Arrogant? I’ll give you that. Gullible? You betchya. Whether you are a millennial or not, the Fyre Fraud documentary is a wild ride nonetheless. Here’s what we can learn from a marketing point of view:


Influencers are Everything

One of the greatest takeaways, and honestly greatest successes, of Fyre Festival’s marketing efforts was aligning themselves with influencers.

Influencers specifically refer to individuals who have monetized their likeness, their look, their personality into a brand. What sets influencers apart from old school marketing methods is that you no longer have to have talent to gain a following (have you seen the Kardashians?) and that your lifestyle alone is enough to inspire a follower to buy the clothes, the food, the tech, that you have SIMPLY because you own it.

Aligning the festival with the biggest influencers in the game gave the festival astronomical visibility. Beyond just sharing about the event, these influencers also were to ATTEND the festival.

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Combating Visual Sameness with Feed Disruption

In the promotion for the Frye Festival, the marketing agency in charge of spreading the hype for the event hit a stroke of genius. Instead of having influencers create their own content (as they usually do), the marketing team created VISUAL DISRUPTION in your social feeds with just an orange tile.

In college, one of my favorite courses in video art centered around the theme of rupture. How can you take a language of media, and break it?

In the era of instagram, there is so much visual sameness. For example, as a blonde millennial entrepreneur, how many coffeeshop with laptop and glasses images do I have, and how many of those kind of images also exist that are of people exactly like me? How as a business, a marketing campaign or initiative cut through the noise? Throw people off? Break the Internet?

Screenshot via  Fashion Law

Screenshot via Fashion Law


Instagram has a chokehold on FOMO

Millennials have also been dubbed the “Fomo Generation” for “Fear of Missing Out.” Because so many of us broadcast every moment of our personal lives, it is so easy to play the comparison game, measuring your life, social calendar, and instagram feed up against your peers and against celebs, artists, movers and shakers.

I’d argue that Instagram has the market on creating, inspiring, inciting and exploiting FOMO. Growing up before cell phones and social media meant that you wouldn’t find out if all your friends hung out without you until Monday morning at school. Now, instagram stories, snapchat, etc. encourage us to share things in real time. It is no surprise that FOMO comes hand in hand with depression, anxiety and inferiority complex — all which lead to an increasingly concerning conversation about mental health. Addressed also in the Netflix Documentary: The American Meme.


Crisis Management: The PR Robots

One of the most striking things about the documentary came to light when shit started to hit the fan.

When producers of Fyre Festival began to realize that pulling off the event was going to be impossible, they DID NOT call off the event. They had already taken people’s money, promoted with influencers, promised bands, and booked ‘villas’ (which turned out to be FEMA tents).

As the general public started to catch on, the marketing team enlisted the help of bots to STRAIGHT UP DELETE and BLOCK negative comments, mention, and hints of the Fyre Festival being fraudulent.

Oren Aks, an ex–Jerry Media designer hired to do social media for Fyre, says he was personally instructed to delete any negative or accusatory posts about Fyre on its Instagram — even simple logistical questions from attendees — and block any accounts that left such comments. He was told to flag on Fyre’s socials general words like “lineup,” “performers,” “details,” “info,” flights,” “fraud,” “stupid,” “scam,” and, yes, even “festival” (“it got that bad,” according to Aks). “I could say, ‘I’m scared.’ I could say, ‘This is dangerous,”’ Aks remembers of those last days before the festival. “It won’t change anything ‘cause the festival has to happen.” - Vulture Media

What most average consumers don’t realize is that this practice is already so ingrained in our culture. Take Yelp for example. You may go to a new city to see find the greatest restaurant in your area and use Yelp to find it. What you don’t realize is that the number 1 result on that Yelp page has most likely been boosted to the number one spot because they have PAID money to hide negative reviews, working with the team at Yelp to rank higher ‘within their algorithm’ and appear as the top result. Read More: Think Yelp is Unbiased? Think Again!!

Besides the fact that they were blocking these kinds of comments and concerns in the first place, I think this is a greater commentary on Public Relations. How can a business illicit the trust of its consumers if they are secretly hiding all the nasty bits? What can we do as business owners to publicly manage crises or mishaps as they occur to ensure TRANSPARENCY and TRUST?

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Concerning Client/Contractor Relationships

What the Fyre Fraud clearly illustrates in a rainbow of colors is the blurred lines of Client & Contractor relationships. As the planning and (failed) execution of the festival went on, there were countless numbers of independent contractors (marketing agencies, designers, PR people, influencers, event planners, organizers, builders, suppliers, INVESTORS) who, on the one hand, had the wool pulled over the eyes, and on the other hand, DIDN’T STOP IT.

Working 24 hour days, deleting negative comments, not having outlined contracts or agreements, sending or receiving faulty wire transfers… the list goes on and on. The Fyre Fraud documentary starts to bring these issues to light, but I think the lesson for all of us is that if something is straight up WRONG, DON’T DO IT.

The Fyre Festival brand crossed a professional line SO MANY TIMES throughout this process, but also part of the fault lies on the contractors involved as well for not stepping out when things started to go sour. So many people, especially the locals in the Bahamas, were mislead, UNPAID and taken advantage of by the millennial frat-douche stereotype that is Billy McFarland and the Fyre Team, that if anything, it’s a lesson in “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” and my Dad’s favorite saying “don’t believe everything you read on the internet.”

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