If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
That is certainly true for those wealthy young Americans who forked out eye-watering sums of money (up to $75,000) to attend Fyre Festival in 2017. Enthusiastic and highly gullible millennials were promised a festival like no other. An immense line up, luxury accommodation and first-class catering, all in a sun-clad Bahamas setting. If the promise of the taste of the high life wasn’t enough, they were also sold the dream that they’d be partying it up with the type of social media moguls this generation drool over.
However, these expectant festivalgoers were met with something quite different when they arrived on the private island. Sun soaked beaches were rain trodden, luxury villas were actually hurricane relief tents and catering resembled a measly salad with a slice of cheese on top.
Rapper, Ja Rule and Fyre founder, Billy McFarland’s dream festival had gone up in flames before the first musical performer had taken to the stage. Two documentaries have recently been released (Netflix’s Fyre Festival: The Greatest Party That Never Happened and Hulu’s Fyre Fraud) shedding light on the fiasco and how it was always destined to fail.
The question remains, how were Fyre able to completely sell-out an inaugural festival that no one had heard of? There are two answers: the promotional material was a millennial marketing masterclass, and Fyre tapped into the true power of Instagram as an advertising tool.
A Millennial Marketing Masterclass
The ability to talk directly to your target audience can be a lucrative business. The promotional marketing for Fyre Festival did just that. It was nothing short of a complete masterstroke. By enlisting the help of a couple of New York creative agencies and models such as Hailey Baldwin, Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski, Fyre barely had to sell their festival at all. All they had to do was sit back and hope swathes of young people would take the bait.
They invited models and Instagram influencers to their private island and festival setting in Great Exuma, The Bahamas for a weekend of partying and filming. Video material of the most desirable people on the internet began to circulate online, promoting the festival itself and the picturesque setting with teaser content and coordinated posts.
No matter how tempting it may be to blame these models and influencers, they too were duped by Billy McFarland into promoting an event that was always a non-starter. However, what McFarland had demonstrated was the innate pull of these household names – they could put their name next to own brand bin bags and you could pretty much guarantee a huge upsurge in sales of that not so special product.
The Power of Instagram
Despite the ill feeling that even the utterance of Billy McFarland’s name will generate – defrauding investors upwards of $20 million and devastating the wishful Instagram feeds of thousands of festivalgoers – the man must be given some credit. As well as tactfully utilising non-musical celebrity names to promote his festival (going against the whole premise of a music festival), he expertly tapped into the power of Instagram.
Increasingly, Instagram is being used to sell things. Whether it’s yourself, your craft or your business, promoting and advertising your brand via the platform has grown exponentially. But Billy McFarland didn’t use celebrity names to defraud unsuspecting millennials out of a couple of bucks for a bogus weight loss tea, it was for untold thousands of dollars all in the name of an ‘idea’, a festival like no other.
While the majority of advertising is thought up by middle-aged men huddled around a table in an office far removed from popular culture, Instagram influencers are the creators and curators of popular culture. Each post is specifically designed to tap into the fantasy lifestyle that they perpetuate on their social media feeds. In reality, the fact Fyre Festival never materialised is irrelevant. The festival sold the dream that this sort of lifestyle was within reach and that was enough.
This festival is symptomatic of the growing trend of using Instagram as an advertising tool. In the same way that you can filter, distort and manipulate an Instagram post, this formula can just as easily be applied to any product sold on the platform.