Don’t Play with Fyre
Published on March 23, 2022, at 5:40 p.m.
by Heather Smyth.
Fyre Festival promised the opportunity to stay in a luxury villa and spend the day on a yacht while anticipating a music festival on Pablo Escobar’s private island. This exclusive experience of a lifetime quickly spiraled into a public relations nightmare. The publicity surrounding the 2017 event was completely falsified, and Fyre Festival was coined “the greatest party that never happened.”
Fyre Media Inc., founded by Billy McFarland and Ja Rule in 2016, is a company that allowed people to book celebrity talent for their events through an app called Fyre. With a focus on the music and entertainment industry, an event called Fyre Festival was created to help promote the app. A big, successful production requires ethical communication, extensive planning and risk management, three crucial elements not taken into account for Fyre Festival.
Fyre Festival organizers released a promotional video with big-name celebrities, such as Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid and Hailey Bieber, featuring white sand beaches and private yachts in crystal clear waters. Everything was staged and was not an accurate representation of what the festival would entail.
Carina Yarbrough, senior account executive at G7 Entertainment Marketing, explained that people “trust the influencer in their choice in products or brands or events.” The three celebrities have a large combined following that brought major traffic to #FyreFestival on Instagram and Twitter, selling out the tickets in just a few days. Yarbrough noted that the celebrities should do their research and be aware of what they associated their name with instead of just focusing on the compensation.
The original location of Fyre Festival, Norman’s Cay, was falsely portrayed in the promotional video as being owned by Pablo Escobar. The rights to use the property were revoked by the Bahamian government after McFarland released the video exposing the false advertising. The company was left scrambling to find an alternative location eight weeks before the event.
The new location, Exuma, Bahamas, was a populated island unable to accommodate the 5,000 ecstatic ticket holders who were scheduled to arrive. The actual event was deemed “closer to The Hunger Games or Lord of the Flies than Coachella” due to the ransacking of scarce resources. It lacked water, restrooms and shelter. Parts of the island were hazardous construction sites that caused Fyre Festival team members to edit and enhance current photos to look like a luxurious destination in continuing promotions.
Yarbrough explained how deceptive advertising causes mistrust in consumers. She acknowledged that people make an investment in a brand because they are confident they know what they’re getting in return. However, there was no secured talent when the Fyre Festival was announced five months prior since it was a brand new event, yet people were sold by celebrity endorsements and the exotic location.
“Don’t get swayed by the fancy name or celebrity,” Charlene Faselle, first vice president-credit at Windsor Federal, cautioned. She supports due diligence as a best practice to avoid a disaster and negative word-of-mouth.
According to Faselle, there are many risks to consider with a big festival, such as weather, costs and vendors. There should also be contingency plans implemented. “If you know what you’re doing, you can mitigate risks,” she suggested. The Fyre Festival was highly disorganized, and there were new challenges daily.
Instead of being a realist, McFarland acted as a visionary, continuously lying to the public to cover up the spiraling disaster that was occurring. He was sentenced to six years in prison for defrauding investors out of $26 million. He was reluctant to pull the plug on the festival but couldn’t provide the promised VIP experience. He committed wire fraud to make Fyre Festival possible and scammed vendors, as well.
Ticket holders were sold on the image of a dream vacation, not just the entertainment that would be provided. The promotional video included text that read “on the boundaries of impossible,” and that’s exactly what it was: logistically impossible. Yarbrough explained, “Instead of taking a step back to look at the wider picture, [promoters got] caught in the now.”
Throughout the festival timeline, there were many missing pieces that were needed to provide the immersive experience that was promised. Fyre Media Inc. received backlash on social media during and after the production. Portrayed as a fantasy turned into a reality, the Fyre Festival will always be remembered as a fantasy turned into a catastrophe.