How social influencers helped pull off the FYRE Festival scam - Punch Creative
March 11, 2019

How social influencers helped pull off the FYRE Festival scam

Whether you’ve seen the documentary or not, you’ve probably heard the term ‘Fyre Fest’ multiple times over the past month, whether that be in news or talking to friends and colleagues (I know we haven’t stopped discussing it in the office). How could one man pull off one of the biggest scams in America? Simple, with social media and a hell of a lot of influencers!

I was instantly hooked on the documentary, which followed young tech entrepreneur, Billy McFarland, who decided to create an ‘exclusive’ music festival to promote his app, Fyre Media. It looked absolutely stunning, white sandy beaches, blue seas, cocktails, music and partying, what any young adult could only dream of. But as the story unfolded, it was clear it was all too good to be true and Billy & partner, Ja Rule had bitten off more than they could chew.
Despite creating a shambles of a ‘music festival’ and scamming people out of millions of dollars, I did feel a bit sorry for him, as it was evident he didn’t have a clue about event management and seemed to be completely out of his depth. So what really put the ‘icing on the cake’ for me, was when it was revealed he was embezzling money from investors, and continuing to con people out of money when he was on bail!!
So how did a brand-new festival, become as popular as the likes of Coachella? With the help of Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, Emily Ratajkowski and a number of other high-profile models who were paid (a lot) to advertise Fyre Festival to their millions of Instagram followers. Not only that, but many of them appeared in the promotional video, which showed them partying, drinking and just having a downright good time. If the festival suits the likes of the Kardashian-Jenner clan who wouldn’t want to go right?
All that it took was a couple of orange boxes on their Instagram feeds, and the festival began to sell out, with people paying up to £4,000 for tickets. Little did they know they would be sleeping in hurricane shelters, with no performing artists and no way of getting home. Although we can’t blame the influencers, as they were as much in the dark as the ticket holders were, it just goes to show how influential they can be to a mass amount of people.
Working in a digital marketing agency, I wasn’t shocked to see people influenced by Instagram stars. However, what did surprise me was that despite being paid to do these posts, the term ‘ad’ wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Would this have stopped people buying tickets? Definitely not, but in my eyes not clarifying the fact they were paid was extremely misleading.
Following the Fyre Festival disaster, along with other influencer incidents, the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has put more stringent regulations in place, so it is now compulsory for influencers to be transparent about paid endorsements. The likes of Millie Mackintosh and Louise Thompson have had posts banned for failing to make clear they were adverts.
If there is one positive thing we can take away, its that influencer marketing works wonders, but are they trustworthy? Let’s leave that for another debate.

By Sophie Madgewick, Marketing Executive