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26/02/2020 The magazine by Communication Science students of the UvA

Fyre fest: How the best marketing campaign ever ended in a horrendous disaster

Fyre Festival was meant to be the best festival ever organized. As you might know, it didn’t quite live up to its expectations.


Fyre festival. Does that ring a bell? Probably yes, if you were around on social media circa 2017. It was some kind of festival with a lot of famous people, a great line-up and an island in the Bahamas previously owned by Pablo Escobar, supposedly. Fyre festival was marketed to be ‘the best two weeks of your life’. What followed was footage of leaking tents, cheese on dry bread and a bunch of really, really rich people freaking out all over social media. Now, Netflix has released a tell all documentary covering how it grew from being the most anticipated event of the year to the big disaster that it is known as now.

Taking it back to the start
Billy McFarland was known as a tremendous entrepreneur among his peers, creating the startup Magnises among several others. For one of his events, he tried to book the rapper Ja Rule. After a bunch of back and forth, Ja Rule stated he did not like the way the booking took place. That’s when McFarland and Ja Rule developed an idea for an app that would make it easy to book any artist you would like for anyplace and anytime, with the artist setting the price for the booking. Kind of like the Uber of bookings. In order to launch this product, they decided the best exposure they could get would be to organize a giant festival featuring many big names.

Here’s when things really started heating up

The campaign itself
Somehow McFarland got ten of the world’s biggest supermodels to come to the island and filmed them having fun, partying and living it up. We’re talking the big shots: Bella Hadid, Chanel Iman, Emily Ratatojwski, etc. All these supermodels obviously created a lot of buzz just by being at the same spot in the same time, sparking rumours of a ‘secret project’ in the Bahamas. Then, the models slowly started posting some of the footage they took during the week on their personal instagrams, without any mention of Fyre Festival.

Here’s when things really started heating up: hundreds of instagram’s most successful, popular influencers, including Kendall Jenner, shared a mysterious orange post hashtagged Fyrefest and a link leading to the website in order to purchase tickets. This is also when the footage of the models partying on the island was released. Many jumped at the opportunity to go experience that was presented: a deserted island filled with the world’s most beautiful and successful people listening to some of the most iconic artists in the world. Who could ask for more?

The so-called disaster
The campaign was spreading like wildfire and tickets started selling out left and right, but in reality things were not looking so great for the festival. The tickets had promised buyers a three person villa, something that was logistically impossible given the size of the island and the amount of tickets they had sold promising this experience. On the money side things weren’t looking so bright either: McFarland had made deals with investors on the basis of artists and promises that weren’t even booked yet. None of the money he had promised to anyone was realistically being made.

When attendees arrived, they quickly realised that they had been scammed. To make matters worse, on the day of the festival one of their biggest headliners, Blink-182, announced that they had decided to pull out of the festival. This move was soon followed by all other artists, leaving the festival with not a single artist performing. That’s when fyre festival really blew up on social media and quickly became the butt of all jokes.

Netflix and Hulu
This past week both Netflix and Hulu have released documentaries explaining the horrendous situation and the fallout, also giving a voice to all the victims of this festival. Both documentaries became hot-topic in the news, with them sparking Ja Rule to slam both Netflix and Hulu for misrepresenting him, tweeting ‘I love how ppl watch a doc and think they have all the answers…’ The documentary also ended up encouraging people to raise money through a gofundme for one of Fyre festival’s biggest victim’s, MaryAnn Role. Role (55) had to provide food for the festival. Seeing as she was not compensated at all for this, she had to pay a whopping 50.000 dollars out of her own savings to pay her workers. As it stands, 235.000 dollars have been raised.

Justice for all?
The question remains if everyone will end up compensated fairly and punished accordingly to the circumstances that transpired. Billy McFarland is currently serving 6 years in prison with 3 years on probation for an unrelated ticketing scam and has to pay a restitution of 26 million dollars. If he will be properly punished for all the trouble he brought unto others is a question that only time can tell. Let’s hope that McFarland has learned his lesson and will proceed to live a life as a regular civilian.

Cover: Trailer Netflix via Youtube

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