The Art of the Con
It was March 2017, and Americans were in the midst of experiencing a March unlike any other. Whilst record and near-record warmth spanned the West and Great Plains, below average temperatures, chilled the North Eastern shores.
But a different kind of storm was brewing just 313 miles off the United States’ southernmost state; one that almost everyone underestimated, overlooked, and was created entirely online.
On the heels of the Fall/Winter 2018 Fashion Month, some of the world’s top supermodels: Alessandra Ambrosio, Bella Hadid, Hailey Beiber, Emily Ratajkowski, captured our attention on Instagram as they posted candid shots of what seemed like an impromptu getaway.
Pig feeding, paddle boarding, party going and puckered lips, left those hunkered down at their 9-5’s salivating over teeny bikinis, obsessing over their perfect bodies, perfect tans and devising the perfect formula for an escape from their ‘regular-degular-shmegular’.
It was a brilliant teaser for what would eventually become known as the catchall for failure, the Fyre Festival.
Promising 48 hours of music, chef-catered meals, private villas and an array of water sports, the Fyre Festival was all inclusive, immersive music festival—but that was just the tip of the iceberg. Unparalleled access to some of the world’s elite, whilst frolicking on the former private island of a renowned drug lord, seemed to be everybody’s cup of tea.
With a burnt orange tile, a hashtag and some of the most influential people on the internet in it's corner, the hype of the Fyre Festival began to infect thousands of unsuspecting influencees—we made our own word here.
It was a well seasoned con.
So dark is the con that even the best fraudsters can sail through a lie detector test because of one, simple reason: the lie is their truth.
But what made the con so easy to achieve was how deeply Billy McFarland, co-founder of the Fyre Festival, was able to tap into his subject’s self-deception, and the interesting part of it, was the role of Instagram.
All advertising is premised on the selling of an ideal, but the efficiency with which social media influencers implant a feeling of inadequacy into their followers, then sell them products and experiences that will seemingly fix their sad, uneventful lives, is more effective than anything that predates it, and it feels like the greater deception behind McFarland’s con.
While everyone points to a different reason like the gourmet cheese sandwiches that have since gone viral, leftover disaster relief tents passing for luxury villas, or patrons fearing for their basic personal safety, the internet consensus is that the highly-anticipated "Caribbean Coachella" was an inexcusable disaster.
And whilst their initial use of influencer marketing was a brilliant and skillful strategy to influence end purchases, social media was their downfall, and the event’s trajectory was a case for how not to use the medium.
What Marketers Can Learn From the Fyre Campaign
A better plan for an influencer marketing campaign—and less expensive one too—is to assemble a larger pool of micro influencers who together can approximate the reach of several celebrity macro influencers.
These micro influencers themselves care about their followers, they care about what messages they are actually sending out. They provide exposure for a product, service or event to the most appropriate niche audiences.
Micro influencer posts cost a fraction of what celebrity posts do, but add the magic ingredient of greater engagement rates with followers, which creates conversions that you don’t necessarily get with celebrities who have very little connection with their followers.
One of the harshest realities brought to light by this whole mess, was the lack of transparency habitual to so many influencers, and the notoriety of the festival has led to marketers, at long last, prioritizing transparency in sponsored posts. More transparency ultimately lends further credibility to the influencer marketing genre as a whole, ensuring its future.
The Fyre Festival was a painful and costly lesson that you should never use social media to make promises you can't keep, and it's necessary to make your apologies quick and heartfelt if need be.
The same thing that builds you up can tear you down, tweet by painful tweet.