A documentary on the failed Fyre festival outlines why authenticity and reality are the true keys to a brand’s victory.
This weekend, Netflix and Hulu released different documentaries about the infamous Fyre Festival.
Fyre Festival, was one of the most high-profile fraudulent enterprise failures in history. It is a tragicomedy of errors that, as both films outline in excruciating detail, unfolded like a slow-motion plane crash in the spring of 2017.
Far from the luxury accommodations and celebrity-chef-prepared meals promised by its chief producers — “entrepreneur” Billy McFarland and rap artist Ja Rule — and the multiple “influencers” who were paid to promote it, concertgoers were met with flimsy tents, boxed lunches, near-total disorganization, a cancelled concert and long waits for flights to return to the mainland.
The documentaries reignite the most egregious over usage of social media branding and hype ever seen in the digital age.
Fyre highlights the ability of digital media “influence” to defraud thousands of people by a simple yet effective process of creating hype over authenticity.
Organizer William Z. “Billy” MacFarlane is a con artist. I prefer con artist over con man in this case because Billy used skills he honed in creative direction and team building to all a false dream.
Like any Ponzi scheme you need a charismatic leader to sell the vision. MacFarlane began with a vision of a streamlined artist booking process that gave promoters the ability to confirm high level recording stars. His own experience trying to book Ja Rule landed him an unlikely friendship with the Queens, NY rapper that evolved into a partnership.
The business was called Fyre and to build the brand the two decided to create a two day festival in the Bahamas. It would feature the world’s biggest recording artists, exclusive luxurious accommodation, and more.
After hiring famous models to shoot epic content on the beautiful island, MacFarlane paid Kendall Jenner of the Kardashians to post the content on her Instagram. That one move sold the majority of the festivals tickets.
With prices up to $6000, attendees bought into the dream of an experience like no other. They sold fame, sophistication, and popularity to a thirsty millennial audience.
The videos were slick but vague. The dress were lucid and rich. The desire was real from manufactured hope.
I always tell my clients to be careful when branding products or services. If you oversell the value and cannot deliver, there will be consequences.
On a small scale, lack of client retention and negative word-of-mouth.
On the high scale, you can end up like Billy MacFarlane, in federal prison for six years. MacFarlane could have cancelled the festival, refunded the money, and returned his investors funds at any time.
However, as a con artist, he went fully into the scheme and needed new money to pay off old debts. The Ponzi scheme cycle is relentless.
Be real and avoid a heinous exaggeration of your abilities on your digital platforms and a besmirched reputation in your life.