Fyre at the (influencer) disco

Watching Netflix’s ‘FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened’ is a spectacularly peculiar exercise in schadenfreude. It’s really enjoyable… for all the wrong reasons. It’s also truly a display of the power of marketing and in particular what influencers can do for an event (or brand). The narrative that develops across the documentary leads you to a familiar but cautionary thought; the unchecked power of influence and its capacity to sell an unachievable status. It’s a smoke screen. It’s a suited TV presenter who in reality has no trousers on behind the desk. It’s just not real. But it has the power to compel action without a hint of the budgie smuggler lurking beneath.

The Fyre Festival, built heavily on the hype from influencers, collapsed like a shit covered paper bag in April 2017. The vision? An exclusive ‘millennial’ nirvana; sunshine, private jets, private island, live music, booze and Instagram models. The place to be seen, all organised by Ja Rule and a business partner known for building exclusive experiences.

One of the things that really pops out and throat punches your sense of decency in the film is CEO of Fyre Media Billy McFarland smugly saying “…we’re selling a pipe dream to your average loser”. And that was indeed the plan. Separate as much cash as possible from people chasing a dream that just didn’t exist.

The event launch was driven by a stylish promo video and a string of models and personalities posting on Instagram. Hype was large when tickets went on sale. It kicked off with an alleged $250k Instagram post from Kendall Jenner, followed up with posts from Bella Hadid, Hailey Baldwin and Emily Ratajkowski, among others. The latter was seemingly the only one to use the hashtag #Ad.

That particular aspect has become a popular debate around Fyre and in general in marketing; influencers not declaring interests. There was even a lawsuit targeting both the Fyre organisers and the influencers.

Influencers’ often don’t make it clear what is and what isn’t paid for content – paid for in any form of return for the influencer, for that matter. The difference between how that worked previously and where we are now is that trust (to a degree) had a gatekeeper. If an ad lied, you could challenge it and try and to make sure it wasn’t shown again.

Except that is, that it’s all horseshit. You just need to look at ‘traditional’ celebrities both online and offline to see the blurry lines of disclosure. Everything from the brand of amplifier your favourite band use to the “free” lease of a sports car that your favourite actor drives. It’s all paid for in return for influence and often features in publicity both on social media and off. Regulation and transparency – I absolutely agree. However, let’s not have one rule for some and another for others.

The FTC and ASA make it clear; make it obvious it’s a deal. Please don’t just hide an #Ad hashtag. Whoever you are, make it stupidly clear when it’s paid for, but make it relevant for the audience too. We understand why you’re doing it. If you’re a fitness influencer or an A list star and you suddenly appear to have a fetish for Domino’s Two for Tuesday, the public will, shockingly, smell a rat.
The no-trousers dream of an unobtainable life portrayed to, in the words of Mr McFarland, the “average loser” online is a subject well worthy of proper debate. But in the meantime, don’t demonise Bella without Beckham too.

Posted by

Francis Burns