Was an orange tile the nail in the coffin of influencer marketing?

We already know that, amid growing concerns of influencer fraud, this area of marketing is now on a downward spiral, so to speak. Largely in thanks to the small number of corrupt activities in an otherwise sound form of product/service promotion. It truly is the minority that ruin it for the majority. Nevertheless, following all the recent scandals around the trend – I think we can all agree that it’s no longer a truly effective method of comms (with a few exceptions, granted – but overall, the practice is tainted).

Talking of scandals, enter ‘FYRE festival’. Which, though being aware of the infamous event a few years ago, I was recently further educated about by Netflix’s insightful documentary. Which if you haven’t watched, by the way, I would certainly recommend. You’ll struggle to pick your jaw up off the floor afterwards and will agree with me that Billy McFarland should be in jail for the rest of his days.

I literally spent the whole hour and a half wishing they’d get off the beach and sort the mess out they’d created


Taking the ‘expectation vs. reality’ meme a little too seriously in 2017 was FYRE festival – the notorious gig that fooled many high profile influencers and the general public alike. The fortnight-long affair was supposed to take place on the Bahamian island of Great Exuma, which it did (despite being originally advertised as being hosted on Pablo Escabar’s island). But it was a far cry from what was promised to guests who paid near thousands to attend.

That feeling when you pay for a luxury tent and end roughing it in an emergency hurricane temporary shelter…

Quickly turning out to to be the scandal of the decade, FYRE festival has gone down in history for many reasons but largely because of the mass-scale misselling to some of the most well-known online profiles of our generation. Who soon took to Twitter to share their dismay when they arrived on the Island, only to find out they’d been duped. I vaguely remember one attendee comparing it to the likes of the Hunger Games, so that pretty much paints a perfect picture of the setting.

Guests were promised a private chef and exclusive cuisine

But this festival isn’t just one for the ages in terms of impropriety, actually – it’s one for the books when it comes to terrible comms too, which pretty much formed the foundation of its failure.

For one of two reasons, actually:

  1. Awful miscommunication 
  2. Exploitation on a mass scale due to fraudulent influencer marketing

FYRE festival – the biggest comms blip of our generation?

But before I talk about influencer marketing – and how this festival was the pinnacle of fraud that has arguably buried it for good – let’s look at how the event was one of the poorest comms efforts our generation has ever seen.

I remember when this all took place, almost 2 years ago now, actually. Twitter was a playground of panic and intrigue. With a number of those actually at the event tweeting their living horrors, and the rest of us looking on waiting for more updates. Many actually worried for the safety of attendees – as the whole festival seemed to have a ‘something’s not quite right’ aura to it.

Organised and executed by Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule – who, are now the subject of a $100 million lawsuit and with one half of the terror duo quite rightly behind bars – it was originally an initiative to promote the ‘FYRE music booking app’.

Spending the big bucks on influencer marketing, the event was promoted by the likes of Kendall Jenner and Emily Ratajkowski amongst others, who promised their followers “an immersive music festival and two transformational weekends on the boundaries of the impossible.” Which, as luck would have it, turned out to be true. It’s impossible to imagine how a planned occurrence can go so horribly, horribly wrong.

But more about influencer marketing shortly…

Scheduled for two weekends in April and May 2017, the event sold day tickets from $500 to $1,500, and VIP packages including airfare and luxury tent accommodations for $12,000. Customers were promised accommodations in “modern, eco-friendly, geodesic domes” and meals from celebrity chefs. (Yikes – you already know this is sounding far too good to be true). 

And this is exactly where this comms disaster, arguably the biggest our generation has ever seen, comes into play. It’s miscommunication on a mass scale, and throughout the whole documentary, all I could think about were the PR implications of this lie that had just blown up entirely out of proportion. To the end, PR did get a mention – and it was of the FYRE festival team saying they couldn’t pull the plug on the festival, despite having no guests, because it would have been a PR nightmare. True, but it’d have lasted days, maybe weeks – but that would have been it.

Instead, the decision to go ahead with the festival, leaving guests open to criticise on a mass level amounted much more unwanted attention in the end. Swings and roundabouts really.

I implore you to watch the documentary and I promise you, you’ll be baffled from start to finish. The actions of Ja Rule and Billy McFarland are the epitome of poor PR, it demonstrates how a quick media win can actually end up being entirely detrimental in the grander scheme of things.

And now how are we supposed to trust influencers?

On to influencer marketing, the (regrettable) backbone of FYRE festival.

Everybody involved on a higher level in the event unapologetically cast all their money into what you could say was the most lavish and extreme influencer marketing activity of all time. Successful though? Absoloutely not.

All of the high profile names you could ever think of were either flew over to the Bahamas, or were involved in the ill-reputed ‘5pm launch’, wherein a simple image of an orange tile was posted to Instagram with a caption relating back to #FYREfestival.

And they recruited pretty much every name in the industry you can think of…

The problem is though, as it turned out – these influencers sold us a lie on an unforgivable scale. Largely as a result of the marketing, tonnes of festival attendees handed over money to effective fraudsters to actually be subjected to something that can only really be described as a scavenger fest.

Guests who’d paid for private yachts, actually found themselves battling with strangers for a blow-up bed in a makeshift hurricane survival tent. And the reason they were there? The influencers that they look up to, to make decisions… The influencers that had let them down.

Now, supposedly, these said high profile figures are all facing legal action for failure to disclose advertisements and for promoting fraudulent activity.


But is it really their fault, were they to know they were promoting a scam. Or, on the flip side of the coin when being paid up to $250,000 for one post, should you do more research into what you’re promoting before signing your name away?

Whatever your stance, one thing is for certain – FYRE festival has just reinforced to us, ad it has been time and time again, that there is so much fraudulent activity within the breadth of influencer marketing that it’s truly becoming an inefficient method of communication. Of course, the industry is, and has been largely successful – but the small part of corrupt activity truly does blacklist the whole affair. And I for one, following the shambles that was FYRE festival, would think twice before ever trusting a high profile Instagram personality…

…Whether it’s an #ad or not.

Things to read

If you’re interested in reading more about FYRE Festival, I’ve really err-ed away from edging into detail about it too much as there’s already some great content out there around it (and too many cooks spoil the broth, as they say).

As you leave, check out these articles too.

Orlagh Claires’ Liar, Liar, Pants on Fyre: Instagram or Insta-scam?

Vuelio’s 5 PR Lessons From The FYRE Festival.

Influencer Marketing Hub’s ‘No, Fyre Festival Wasn’t an Influencer Marketing Success’

P.s. – Thank You!

pr marketing comms finalist badge

I’m not quite done yet either. I’m in a small but brilliant pool of talented and creative writers, and I too often feel as though I don’t belong here. Therefore, to be in amongst the finalists for the UK blog awards for best PR, Marketing and Comms blog means so much to me… Beyond words.

It’s amazing in fact.

Therefore, I just wanted to say a big… No, a MASSIVE thank you to everyone who voted for me in the awards. If it wasn’t for the people who read my blog and support me every day, I almost certainly wouldn’t bother. So for that, endless gratitude is in order.

Thank you.

While you’re here, please subscribe to my blog by heading back to my homepage and entering your email on the right-hand side of the page.

PR and lifestyle blogger jessica pardoe

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