There could never be enough Instagram filters in the world to add a rosy glow to the once-in-a-lifetime debacle that was Fyre Festival. With the promise of music, gourmet food and something vague about 'art', it was marketed as a model-soaked bacchanalia for the rich and beautiful. To be at Fyre was to be where practically no one else could be. Even the supposedly luxurious location in the Bahamas once belonged to sometimes folk-hero, mostly cold-blooded murderer, Pablo Escobar, and how cool is that, because we all know who he is now thanks to 'Narcos'.
The logo even looked like Tinder's, suggesting that your glamping could involve more than swimming with the island's pigs, who apparently love to take dips in the shark-infested local waters (so really, you get to swim with sharks too).
Instead... well, it turned out badly. It looked like a thousand people gathered around the catering tent at a cheap shoot, except the food was worse and nothing was cheap. Okay, maybe the tent was cheap.
Fyre Festival 2017 in great exuma, Bahamas. What was billed as a Coachella of luxury quickly fell apart and dissolved into chaos during the first weekend. . . . . . . . . . . #fyrefestival #greatexuma #bahamas #musicfestival #fyre #journalism #journalist #photojournalism #photojournalist #nycphotographer #photography #photographer #photooftheday #instagood #instadaily #instaphoto #jarule
So what now? Well, as the online giggling subsides and the (now even poorer) poor saps who fell for the hype slowly make their way home, many of those involved should take a moment to absorb some lessons they should've known from the very beginning -- basic and fundamental lessons in business ethics, branding and the benefit of simply using your brain, even if only loosely, to avert disaster and embarrassment.
The Fyre Festival website, now clearly under the control of lawyers who no longer think images of models on yachts send a defensible message, tells us that the festival was created because Ja Rule and Billy McFarland share a "mutual interest in technology, the ocean, and rap music". It's an odd combination to base a business model on and they can now only wish they also shared a passion for, say, organisation. Or catering. Or maybe just thinking ahead.
But they did have an understanding of the power of influencers, so you could say they knew a bit about marketing, although maybe only at a very basic level: you pay, they post, fans react. No one reading this needs a refresher on how influencer marketing works, but influencers themselves would be wise to take note of the very different #fyre posts that have appeared on their platforms of choice in the past few days, compared to the ones they put up to lure people to the Bahamas in the first place.
When the painfully self-aware bikini posts started to roll out, almost no influencer felt the need to mention they were being paid, and in some ways you can't really blame them. Anyone with the means to shell out thousands for a ticket knows messages like these are the result of some kind of deal, right? Surely, you can't pull that sort of cash together without a modicum of intelligence. Or is someone willing to put down the money before a lineup is even announced ipso facto a dunce? Whether or not this is the case, the morality of acknowledging cash for comment is just one of the outtakes insta-celebs can debate amongst themselves over coming weeks.
The more important reminder they can take away from the windswept, rubble-strewn beaches of Grand Exuma is that if they want to be brands, they have to act like brands. That means undertaking the due diligence needed to make sure that an endorsement doesn't end up being an indictment. They need to remember that they are in the marketing game, and not sticking to some basic rules is a quick way to screw up.
No one is going to say that marketing is always a paragon of truth and virtue. By its very nature it often portrays the world 'as we wish it were' rather than as it actually is. To retouch an image is to create an alternate reality, in the same way that music changes a piece of film, or an Instagram filter changes the image you're about to post. An image it may have taken forever to get 'just so.'
Messages usually come pre-packaged for influencers anyway, but whether you're crafting a message or simply delivering it, it's a wise move to take a moment and try to do a little fact checking or at least think about the integrity of the brand that wants to exploit your brand. Okay, so we all gild the lily at times, but the lily still has to be there, and if it isn't, you cease and desist. If things have progressed, put out a retraction if you have to.
In the end it's all about credibility. Fyre Festival probably felt legitimate at some point, but the writing has apparently been on the wall for quite a while, and some of that writing was in The Wall Street Journal no less, which published a damning article earlier this month.
Now that all the original posts have been taken down, the 400-odd influencers who pushed out Fyre messages will no doubt just like to get on with their online lives, and that's probably exactly what will happen. After all, everyone stuffs up and we can all be naïve. And, hey, if every model and their dog is posting, shouldn't you too? No doubt some extreme FOMO would have kicked in if you were a model and Fyre hadn't reached out to you. Can you imagine the angst?! No, me either.
But if your insta-brand doesn't think ahead and if you don't defend what's yours against those who are either scammers or incompetents (and, to be fair, it seems like the Fyre organisers fall into the latter category), you will eventually learn that influence, like fame, can be fleeting.
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