What Marketers Can Learn From the Fyre Festival Fiasco

A clear case for values and organizational alignment

two pictures side by side; on the left a couple is at what they thought was Fyre Fest; on the right is a screen shot of a tweet showing the food at Fyre festival
A capable marketing team likely would have seen quite a number of red flags with Fyre Festival in its early stages. Netflix

It all started with so much promise: eight models on a yacht, Kendall Jenner and 400 other social media influencers, but it ended in a debacle producing nearly endless chatter. Since the Netflix and Hulu documentaries about the 2017 Fyre Festival were released in January, a big debate has surfaced about the merit of influencer marketing.

The Fyre Festival may have crashed and burned, but from a pure marketing standpoint, it was quite an achievement when 5,000 people bought $4,000 tickets to attend the event, which promised a VIP, dream-like experience on the Bahamian island of Great Exuma. The reality turned out to be a nightmare where people were forced to sleep in half-built tents and had only meager food items like cold cheese sandwiches to eat.

That outcome serves as a stark reminder that while big visions sell, internal orchestration and authenticity matter. The influencer program delivered incredible results, but the problems arose when the event didn’t deliver the right experience. And since the Fyre Festival involved aspects of youth culture, it’s the perfect example for teaching millennial businesspeople about what happens when marketing is not aligned with other departments of a business. Bad alignment for marketing, sales and product are bad for the customer experience and bad for brands.

Orchestration helps hit the right notes

While big visions sell, internal orchestration and authenticity matter.

Never has a case for organizational alignment been more black and white. The festival’s promoters proved that paid influencer programs can create a huge buzz as they cleverly employed a simple-yet-mysterious orange logo that was easily shareable on social media. At the same time, this situation illustrates that when marketing, sales and product (the event, in this case) aren’t synced, they end up creating distrust among buyers.

With Fyre Festival, the influencers and marketing website did what they were supposed to do in inspiring people to sign up for an experience. But then the providers of the experience did not deliver, and now Fyre Festival is an icon of distrust. This case study should be taught to show the next generation why one hand needs to talk to the other to succeed in marketing, sales and product.

For both B-to-C and B-to-B brands, Fyre Festival is a reminder that your steak needs to be as good as your sizzle. For B-to-B brands, in particular, it underscores why your webinar should deliver on the promise of the social ad or email message that pitched it. It’s also a reminder of the distrust organizations can create by not correctly aligning business functions, such as sales and marketing. It’s imperative to align on shared objectives and then use all the digital tools and collaboration best practices available to keep your business in rhythm.

Authenticity as an experience

The Fyre Festival also illustrates how vital it is for brands to be authentic and human. The risks of not being authentic are severe. As an interviewee in one of the Fyre Festival documentaries observed, “One kid with probably 400 followers posted a picture of cheese on toast that trended and essentially ripped down the festival.”

Companies now have the data at their fingertips to make conversations with prospects and customers not only more targeted but more authentic. The ability to get to know your customers online is central to how digital can make B-to-B marketing more human. For instance, messages can be tailored according to what a buyer states they need on social channels (publicly expressed pain points, in other words) or what data on B-to-B-minded sites tell me about what they’ll likely need. Technology also enables marketing and sales departments to treat each potential client or existing client in a more coordinated and personalized way.

Fyre Festival is a reminder that consumer trust is at an all-time low, which represents an opportunity for both B-to-C and B-to-B brands to stand for both their products’ value and human values. Because modern business is complicated, these goals require each team within the company to internalize the brand promise and deliver it at every touchpoint with the customer.

Why is this idea important now beyond the Fyre Festival catastrophe? Mainly due to millennials coming of age as decision-makers; in fact, 73 percent of millennials who work in business are involved in the technology purchasing process for their companies. This demographic values authenticity more than previous generations of buyers.

In 10 years, a significant percentage of companies, perhaps even a majority, will be led by millennials. It’s more important than ever to inspire your marketing, sales and product teams’ alignment now so you create the right kind of fire in the future.


Keith Richey is senior director of marketing for LinkedIn Marketing and Sales Solutions.
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