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  • Will Rix

Fyre | The Greatest Influence to Actually Happen

I wrote this article shortly after the respective Hulu and Netflix Documentaries aired.

The Public Response

Recently, I have been faced with an onslaught from friends, flatmates and strangers dooming the industry I work in. It’s been a welcome part of my schedule for the past few weeks.

This is, of course, due to the Fyre Festival using influencer marketing to promote their non-existent event.

Looking back at the time since the two rivalling documentaries from Hulu and Netflix aired last month - beautifully timed alongside the crackdown on influencer marketing from the CMA and ASA - the industry has been attacked from multiple mainstream media outlets, public figures, politicians and (ironically) people on the internet.

Whether it’s from the documentaries, articles or word of mouth; suddenly a lot more people have quickly formed a view on influencer marketing. From my experience, I can usually fit the general line of questioning into one theme. Admittedly, quoting back my friend is probably the best way to illustrate; “So yeah, Fyre festival looks pretty bad for influencer marketing, right? I guess it’s only a matter of time before the people catch on to it.”

These phrases often pair themselves with people who have formed a very basic idea of influencer marketing and, probably, view social media strategy as a form of identity theft.

This has left many defending the actual role of influencer marketing. Either explaining how it is not a new social construct by any means, how it is now becoming regulated or simply explaining how all media platforms naturally have advertising.

Before diving headfirst into the fray, there are three key points to consider that most agree on after watching either documentary:

- A lot of people think there is only one type of digital influencer

- Millennials are easy prey (both as consumers and as media targets)

- The marketing behind it, at least during the build-up, was undeniably powerful and actually worked

Breaking it down

The Hulu version took a different take to Netflix. They barged in with all the facts at once, giving us an ‘exposé’ version of the events. They had a large focus on millennial culture that provided a platform for an event of this magnitude to be marketed so quickly. Millennials were painted as a generation obsessed with digital heroes and virtual worlds. They are cut off from the wealth and opportunities by the proceeding generation. In other words, they’re heading towards 30, scrolling through social media, desperate to find meaning from the confines of their parent's basement.

The idea of a youth culture that is obsessed with what they don’t have became the foundation of their narrative. This then bleeds into Hulu’s presentation of the ‘Influencers’ of Fyre.

They are the vessels of the digitally-based, aspirational world that a generation follows, but cannot actually have. Described as ‘selling their lifestyle’, and branding ‘positive vibes’ to their followers - their presentation of ‘Influencers’ exist only to market their good fortune and monetise envy.

I have come across a wide variety of digital influencers; I’ve never heard a single one utter ‘positive vibes’ non-ironically. Few would actually describe themselves as influencers. They are creators who can use Instagram as a platform to sell their ideas and content to clients. They are diverse, multi-disciplined and engaged with normal reality. Most importantly, they are the consumers too.

This is the key difference between Fyre's influencers and the vast majority of this industry. Or, at the very least, the portion of the industry that operates with a creative focus. At no point, in either documentary, was quality of content, artistic talent, or individuality mentioned in relation to the term ‘influencers’.

Fyre was using one type of influencer; the Luxury Macro. An influencer which has a place in certain budgets, however, is by no means representative of the entire industry.

Jenner, Hadid, Burnt Orange and Timing

“So many things had to go right to make it this big of a failure. Everybody fully believed that we were going to put on an event that was going to change the landscape and deliver an experience people would talk about for years." - Billy McFarland, CEO of Fyre.

Acknowledgement of the power of influencer marketing is felt across both productions. However, the phrasing and tone in which they chose to translate the effects social media can have are equally important when put into context.

For instance, a quote that stood out to me was the Hulu version using the phrase to ‘weaponise social media’, when others might have used ‘social media strategy’, or ‘content schedule’.

That being said, their strategy was undoubtedly effective. For global influencer such as Kendall Jenner, she has the literal influence to reposition an entire brand with a single post. If you have the budget and want to put all your eggs in one basket (for one extremely high fee) influencer marketing can offer you this option.

For Fyre and their “supposed” budget, if you’re trying to launch a colossal campaign from scratch as fast as possible, the luxury macro influencer would naturally be your first port of call. You’re not trying to embed and stimulate an organic narrative over a period of time. Fyre wanted an instant explosion of traction, visuals and immediate discussion. It’s as if they were picking up a megaphone in a crowded room full of whispering people and screamed ‘WHO WANTS TO BE A BRAND AMBASSADOR’.

Moreover, from a marketing perspective, the use of burnt orange was a stroke of genius. Disruptive, ambiguous and provocative. It stimulated conversation through its air of mystery (partially due to lack of declaration) and reinstated the true value of timing. The selected influencers all had a large reach and audiences demographics to feed their thirsty millennial followers. Each had young, lifestyle-focused and had a large portion of fans who regularly engaged with their aspirational imagery. In other words, Fyre pinpointed the groups that were far more likely to be seduced by notions of luxury and simultaneously executed their strategy.

The marketing of this festival ultimately worked, otherwise we wouldn’t be here. Fueling Billy’s warped logic that so many things had to go right before they went so wrong.

Ethics from The Boss

Whalar’s office has been teeming with debate - who’s to blame for the misleading marketing? Are the influencers also to blame? Or their management? Are they victims? Our Managing Director - Emma Harman had this to say:

“Fyre Festival demonstrated the absolute impact that influencer marketing can have, it is unheard of for a music festival to sell out Year 1. What I find irresponsible is that not one of the agents of the models that were engaged actually questioned the event or the background of Billy. Considering how much money they were paid, none of them actually thought about the end consumer. Absolutely everyone was focused on the cash, and once you chase money like that, and remove any ethical questions, you are over.

“Anyone intelligent could see that there was no infrastructure on those islands to handle 10,000 people. The models themselves should have seen it when they were there. It is a question of ethics for me.” - Emma Harman, MD at Whalar.

Agency and Representation

Influencers and brands ultimately need to be aware of the situation they’re getting themselves into. Whether they are managed or have full control, to research what you are communicating to your followers is crucial. From the brand side, they also need to give full exposure of what they’re communicating and why.

The longevity of influencer marketing comes into play when brand values and creative intent are authentically merged. Once the paycheck becomes the sole focus of any form of marketing, creative suffers. And in this case, unauthentic marketing was paired with a multi-million dollar fraud conviction.

Sidestepping Transparency to Simulate Authenticity

When influencers fail to use #ad, or any other disclaimer - beyond being illegal - it morphs the legitimacy of what they are marketing. Without any form of regulation, you are broadcasting that what you are saying, posting, or creating, to be of your own complete organic interest.

The use of a disclaimer protects the consumers by giving them immediate foresight that a brands message or identity is being translated. In turn, it preserves the influencers by validating their work as professional creators who are of a monetary asset to brands. Fyre’s fixation on embedding their narrative and causing hysteria meant a focus on advertising that couldn’t be distinguished as branded content. In other words, although it was extremely powerful, they subverted several progressive steps influencer marketing has been taking.

To sell something, without declaring so is its own ethical issue. With Whalar, and other agencies, we are implementing firm standards to protect both sides of the fence. Influencer marketing is most useful when brands collaborate with the right creator. Trusting and talented creators on Instagram can bring a brand back down to earth and make it personable to their audiences.

If anything, Fyre Festival proves influencer marketing is here to stay and will only evolve to be more effective as brands shift their budget and become more in-sync with how it operates. Scams can happen, but a select group or singular ideology cannot derail an entire industry.

Place your trust in the right creators and you will see results.

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