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Marketing Lessons Learned from the Fyre Festival Fiasco

Netflix’s latest documentary is generating a ton of buzz around the Fyre Festival, a music event that was aggressively promoted but ultimately failed because of poor planning and empty promises.

Sure, the infamous Fyre Festival will go down in history as a textbook example of a brand crashing and burning. However, you’ve got to hand it to them—the hype that event maestro Billy McFarland and company created was pure marketing genius. Social media celebrities promoted it. The branding was strong and consistent. The messaging was clear, seductive, and ambitious. The vision resonated with young people all over the country. Also, the entire event sold out in less than a day.

So in the spirit of calling it like it is, we’re focusing on what happened to the Fyre Festival before it nosedived: effective marketing tactics.

Big disclaimer: We certainly don’t endorse marketing fraud for your product or service, but examining the marketing campaign tactics the Fyre Festival used to create buzz around their initial sales pitch can be a useful lesson for any marketer, whether we all want to admit it or not.

Never overlook marketing.

One of the most important, but often-overlooked sections in a business plan is the marketing section. It’s easy to understand why; most entrepreneurs have a service, a product, a program, or a platform that they have passionately refined — but they probably haven’t had time or opportunities to develop the necessary marketing skills along the way.

The Fyre Festival was a massive fraud, but their marketing was so impactful that investors and consumers kept giving the owners money even despite repeated warnings from insiders.

When developing your marketing plan to get the attention of investors, it’s important to understand marketing basics. Let’s review marketing principles that should apply to all business plans (and how McFarland and his team approached them).

Define your target market.

Who are your best customers and where do they congregate? Now develop a strategy to reach them.

McFarland understood early on who his targets were: upscale millennial consumers with an abject fear of missing out on the next big thing. This target would not miss the party of the century even if it meant spending thousands of dollars on tickets.

Build an unforgettable brand.

All excellent marketing starts with an approachable brand. Does your brand appeal to your targets? If you don’t have a well-defined brand yet, put the cost of brand development in your plan.

Fyre invested big money to project its brand vision. For Fyre Festival, top models and social media influencers frolicking at a beach party conveyed its brand. Beautiful girls drinking, dancing, and jet skiing juxtaposed with images of luxury villas and yachts on a gorgeous white sand beach prompted strong responses from status-driven millennials. From their logo to their color palettes, every piece of collateral conveyed all they had to offer in a single glance.

Marketing Lessons Learned from the Fyre Festival Fiasco

Develop your strongest online marketing tactics.

What mix of online tactics will work for your brand? A website, social media, influencers, databases, email marketing, or a combination of it all? What will impress your target market? Building a robust strategy for this channel is essential.

The Fyre Festival team employed a variety of masterful online tactics. When social media influencers posted a simple orange block on their accounts with the hashtag #fyrefestival, it went viral almost instantly. Kendall Jenner was reportedly paid $250K for one endorsement. According to an exhibit filed along with the attorneys’ request, IMG Models received more than $1.2 million from Fyre Festival LLC. Fyre carefully orchestrated social media posts, influencers, newsletters, and direct emails.

Don’t forget offline marketing.

This could be print, TV, tradeshows, conferences, or seminars. Do you have thoughts that others in your field would find informational or entertaining? Schedule speaking events where your clients congregate.

Fyre Festival promoters used parties and celebrity events to drum up even more interest. Hip-hop mogul Ja Rule used networking events and appearances on other media outlets to promote the event by word of mouth, creating excitement outside of any social media platform.

Budget accordingly.

Marketing is often the most underfunded section in a business plan, but investors want to see that you have the grit to cut through the noise in an oversaturated market. For your business plan, include all the money you will need to devote to marketing and make sure to reflect these numbers in your proforma. Investors won’t fault you for this.

However, this can also be taken to the extreme. The founders of Fyre Festival spent almost all of their start-up money on models, yachts, and outside contractors on their promotional material. This lesson is more about what not to do in Fyre’s case — when all was said and done, they ran out of money to deliver a fantastic product.

Final thoughts

Ultimately, your product or service should be the star of the show, and a portion of your budget should be allocated for marketing to build awareness of how great it truly is. If there’s one thing we all can learn from the Fyre Festival fraud, it’s that when consumers are sold a vision, they eat it up — unfortunately, Billy McFarland understood this fact and exploited it.

Luckily, people like him are the exception, and we like to believe that most small businesses are doing honest work to make an impact in the world.

Remember that the most authentic brands can use marketing just like McFarland did — the only difference is that they’ll actually win the day and be remembered for something greater.

Nancy Clauss

Business planning specialist with startup expertise devoted to helping small businesses launch and prosper through VC grade business plans, financial models, and branding packages. I also have a personal mission to advocate for persons of color and women business owners through small business certifications enabling them to work with larger corporations and government entities. View details.

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