How hubris took down the Fyre Festival

"Don't get cocky," says the event's former social media and brand creative director.

Earlier this year, Netflix and Hulu both released documentaries about the Fyre Festival, giving viewers an inside look at the hotly anticipated, mess of a luxury music event in 2017 that never happened.

"You guys that run agencies come up to me and say that you would’ve seen this coming from a mile away, and you’re all professionals and it’s great, but it’s super dangerous for you to think that way," said Oren Aks, who worked at Jerry Media at the time and served as creative director for Fyre Festival’s social media and brand identity.

He added: "I’ve worked at some of the greatest agencies in my world and I was at startups, and this looked as real as you could imagine until the day I arrived [in the Bahamas]. I’m warning you. Just don’t get cocky."

Aks, who was speaking at Interactive Day in San Diego on Friday with Courage Brands Founder Ryan Berman, told the audience that the concept for the elite festival seemed a little over the top from day one, but "it felt right."

"’I’m not rich, I don’t know. Someone out there must want this’," Aks said he thought to himself during the first meeting with Fyre Media CEO Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule. McFarland is currently serving a six-year sentence in prison for defrauding investors and ticket holders. Both him and Ja Rule are subjects of subject a $100 million lawsuit in the state of California, filed by entertainment lawyer Mark Geragos on behalf of plaintiff Daniel Jung, who is seeking class action status for the lawsuit with more than 150 plaintiffs.

Fyre Festival, which wound up never taking place, received millions of dollars from investors and sold 5,000 tickets between $500 and $1,500, as well as VIP packages for $12,000.

The red flags started to pop up, according to Aks, when Fyre wouldn’t pay Jerry Media on time – "not even in small numbers."

But then, McFarland would "close another million somehow" a week or so later, he said.

At first, Aks said the aim was to be mysterious with content – such as posting intriguing logos without explanations - for the festival, but then the mystery came down to simply having a lack of resources.

FOMO – the "fear of missing out" – was literally written into the decks as a startegy for the festival, said Aks.

Today, he said he tries to incorporate both FOMO and JOMO – "joy of missing out" – in his work because it takes people offline but also ties in experiential assets, like the Museum of Ice Cream. "It’s meant to be shared, but it’s in reality with my friends and you’re having a real connection," he said.

When asked if he now hates social media because of the festival, Aks said he took some time off of it for a while, but everything "naturally comes back to social," especially with his illustrations and design. He said social media does do a lot of good in the world too, pointing the recent example of Facebook using A.I. and search to combat false information on vaccines.

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