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Due Diligence in Influencer Marketing: A Lesson from Fyre Festival

By now, it’s almost impossible to have not heard of the Fyre Festival disaster after the release of back-to-back documentaries by streaming giants Netflix and Hulu. But just in case you need a refresher, here is a rundown:

- Entrepreneur Billy McFarland and JaRule teamed up to create the Fyre app, which aimed to make the talent booking process easier for people putting together events and shows.

- To promote the app, they masterminded Fyre Festival which promised to “reimagine what it means to attend a music festival.” They promoted that it will be held in the private Exuma Island in the Bahamas that was “once owned by Pablo Escobar,” and projected to have 40,000 guests. 

- And in order to create hype for this “cultural experience of the decade”, the Fyre team tapped hundreds of influencers that has a combined reach of 300 million people. These influencers included the likes of Kendall Jenner, Hailey Baldwin, Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski among others.

- Within hours of these influencers posting about Fyre on their feed, tickets to the festival sold rapidly -- its exorbitant pricing notwithstanding. 

And we all know that happened next: come festival date, a global online exposé revealed that everything was fake. Instead of the ‘cultural experience of the decade’ they were promised, what the festival goers got instead was a traumatic experience they will remember for a lifetime. The rest of us couldn’t hide those smiles of Schadenfreude.

The festival that resulted in two documentaries once again put the spotlight on influencer marketing. The common sentiment is that these influencers were to be blamed for fooling the public, for ultimately selling something that wasn’t true (or too good to be true). From a technical point of view: Fyre’s influencer marketing campaign failed because they were only able to sell 8,000 tickets out of the 40,000 they promised to their investors, pointing to these celebrities with no real connections to their followers despite boasting an online following in millions.

This article by Influencer Marketing Hub highlights, “It’s that lack of transparency by Kendall Jenner and the Fyre Festival organisation that made her post (and all the others from Fyre influencers) subject to criticism. Completely missed in all this is Kendall’s apparent lack of influence on her followers. That’s the story here, because it proves what we’ve been saying here all along: that true influencer marketing happens at the micro-level.”

Here at Narratrs, what we feel lacked most in this entire music festival nightmare is due diligence -- something that permeates in all of our marketing processes, and at the core of our business values. We are here to bridge that gap between brands and those who are most fit to tell their stories. We are upfront with the brands we work with about our process when choosing influencers, which is a combination of quantitative data and qualitative analysis. When dealing with influencers, transparency is a must about what we offer, and how it can help them and their followers.

Influencer marketing did not cause the failure of Fyre Festival obviously. But as we explore even more what this marketing practice can do, the elevation in the kind of discussion we are having is apparent: from if it is effective or not, to what is ethical and just for everyone. 

The latter shapes our product philosophy and what we can offer to both brands and influencers.