The Fyre Festival was billed as the "new Coachella." Set on the island of Exuma in the Bahamas, the music event, scheduled to feature performances from artists such as Blink 182, Disclosure, Migos and Ja Rule, was promised to be a luxury affair. That fantasy instantly evaporated as attendees shared images of emergency tents, piles of garbage, inedible food and roaming feral dogs. As more and more information about the poor conditions were shared, the question everyone was asking was, how did this happen? And, in addition to the organizers, are the celebrity influencers such as Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski also to blame?
Influencer marketing was the primary tool used by promoters to sell the event to the public and it led fans to not only a disappointing experience, but also a dangerous one. The organizers' pitch deck revealed that the partners, Billy McFarland, the 26-year-old co-founder and CEO of Magnises, an on-demand luxury concierge service based in New York, and rap singer Ja Rule, used approximately 400 influencers, cringingly labeled as the "The Fyre Squad" to market the event. Instagram powerhouses were paid in hard cash and perks to reach their millions of followers. Vice estimated they likely paid Jenner nearly $250,000 for one post and $20,000 or more to other influencers.
McFarland and Ja Rule will be fielding law suits for years, but what about the influencers? What's their responsibility, if at all, to their followers? The Federal Trade Commission, which in part regulates advertising to protect and educate consumers, is increasingly cracking down on influencer marketing, hitting marketers with fines for misleading advertising, but influencers are also required to disclose their participation and, in the case of Fyre, many did not. They not only failed to make their advertising association clear and sold a fatally flawed event to their fans, but many didn't even acknowledge the debacle. As more information about the festival came out, several influencers quickly deleted their previous posts tied to the event and many failed to even issue an apology, like Hadid sort of did, for their involvement.
The Fyre Festival is an extreme, worst-case scenario highlighting all that can go wrong with influencer marketing. Besides taking the obvious step to vet the legitimacy of any event or product they were promoting, influencers could have done a better job at controlling the damage once it was done. Influencers, and the brands that hire them, have to be transparent or will pay with their reputations and their wallets. They need to take responsibility for the weight of their personal brands and the impact their influence can have on their followers. It could easily help everyone avoid disaster.
—Dani Simpson is the co-founder and president of Pure Growth Consulting, a marketing and advertising consultancy.