The no.1 Fyre Festival lesson: Experiences are hugely powerful within marketing campaigns, but failure to deliver will lead to catastrophe.
In late 2016, social media posts promoted a festival on a remote island once owned by the drug lord, Pablo Escobar.
The posts, published by celebrity influencers, were supported by promotional videos advertising an immersive music festival on the “boundaries of the impossible.”
Ticket packages included private jet transportation to the island, luxury accommodation options, gourmet food and a line-up of famous music acts, along with other unique activities.
All on a private tropical island surrounded with white beaches and turquoise waters, housing sunken planes and boats.
The festival experience of the decade was here.
The three-day festival sold out within 48 hours with over 5,000 tickets purchased.
A well-executed marketing campaign promoted the now infamous Fyre Festival.
Stunning social media imagery, experiential videos and slick brand identity, along with celebrity support was prevalent from the outset.
But when the attendees arrived in the Bahamas, the experience they had paid for wasn’t what they were going to get.
Far from it.
The private jets turned out to be an old Boeing 737.
The remote island was actually a construction site on the inhabited island of Great Exuma, which experienced heavy rainfall on the night before the festival.
The luxury accommodation turned out to be disaster relief tents that were soaking wet throughout.
The gourmet food consisted of pre-packaged cheese sandwiches.
And none of the artists promised would appear.
To make matters worse…
The island also had inadequate water facilities and mobile phone reception, with next to no support (security, medical etc.) staff on hand.
Attendees even had to actively search for their luggage from shipping containers in the middle of the night.
Hell broke out on the campsite as people fought for whatever they could get their hands on.
The festival was cancelled the following day, leaving people stranded with no food or water on the island and in the airport with no air conditioning.
The once-in-a-lifetime experience turned out to be a living nightmare.
Experiential marketing aims to create an experience between brands and their customers.
Bringing a product, service or event to life so customers can sample what is being sold to them.
This sort of marketing tactic comes at a time when customers are cynical about brands and more concerned about life experiences rather than buying physical products.
In a digital age, when competition is high and attention spans are low, experiential marketing – as with the case of the Fyre Festival marketing campaign – can create a significant and long-lasting impression.
It captures the imagination and connects with its audience.
The problem, of course, is when a brand does not deliver on the experience promised.
When a brand focusses on the marketing of the product, rather than the product itself.
Influencer marketing, social media shareability, storytelling, video and scarcity all combined to create one of the most impressive marketing campaigns of the last few years.
But the marketing message could never be fulfilled.
The location, the first element of the product sold, was flawed.
The owners of the original location demanded that no mention of Pablo Escobar be made but the event organisers included it anyway.
The festival’s make-shift location, completely different from the one promised, was already hosting another event on the same weekend that resulted in huge transportation and accommodation failures.
Other elements of the festival suffered the same fate.
The Fyre Festival marketing campaign created a demand like no other music festival.
Attendees were quick to part with their money for fear of missing out.
As the event was cashless, attendees put monetary advances on a digital Fyre smartwatch-style band that was also lost.
The organisers knew they were over-promising and once they realised that they promised the impossible, they should have stopped right there.
The vision was a spectacular one, but the strategic planning necessary to pull off an event of this scale was absent.
A spectacular failure doomed from the beginning, resulting in riots.
The festival, designed to promote the new Fyre app, destroyed the app and brand.
Fyre Media CEO, Billy McFarland, was sentenced to six years in prison for fraud and ordered to pay $26 million.
Experiential marketing is a powerful strategy.
Yes, use partners and the latest technology to tap into audiences’ needs, but always be authentic — never promote something you cannot deliver.
Sometimes the obvious is forgotten.
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