FYRE Fest: A Great Marketing Strategy That Went Wrong

Today is MLK Day and for a lot of people it is a day off from work to hang out, relax and really just enjoy yourself before you have to go back to the 9 to 5 grind tomorrow. For me it is something different, I use days like this to catch up on Youtube series, movies and documentaries I have been meaning to check out. So I just finished watching The Punisher on Netflix (very good by the way) and as I was scrolling through Netflix to find something else to watch I saw the selection for FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened. I have been hearing a lot about this documentary all weekend or pretty much since the day it came out on social media. Everyone was saying how crazy this story was and pretty much the narrative of how pretty much “rich people will buy anything.” I thought to myself “hmmm, I have nothing else to watch, might as well see what the hype is about.” I sat there and watched the whole hour and 37 minutes in shock. I just couldn’t believe that somebody would openly deceive this many people. The other side of my brain (which is my marketing side) was saying that the owner Billy McFarland is a marketing genius for what he was able to pull this off. The only thing is that he used his skills and knowledge for evil. Even though he is a completely messed up individual for what he was doing, there were a couple of things that he was doing that was All Madden level marketing though. So while everybody online is trashing Billy (and rightfully so), I just wanted to point out a couple of the things he actually did right.

Creating Perception Is Everything:
This is something that I have figured out a long time ago. With social media it is all about controlling perception. Billy was able to create the perception that this was an event that everyone should want to be at by having all of the top super models of the world come to this island and create so much “organic” promo material that the people that followed them wanted to be a part of whatever this was. He never stated anywhere that the people that attended would be able to hang with these models or these models would even be there but by having multiple well-known models hashtag and post about it, it created the perception that they were going to be there. In the documentary, it shows that he did this days before the official promotional video was done to get people buzzing about what this could be. This part of the story gets an A+ in my book. As I state a lot when you are just starting out, you have to create your own WTF moments and this was his. People had never heard of this festival before but just because they kept hearing about it and people they looked up to were talking about it, he controlled the perception of it.


Great Marketing Can Sell Anything
This one directly ties in with the first selection. We all know that great marketing can sell anything but there hasn’t been a better example of it than this “festival”. They were marketing something that people haven’t even seen before. Billy and their marketing team were very aware of their target demographic and they were using all of the things that the demographic that he was going for liked and threw that all in their face. He made sure that some of the biggest artists’ names were associated with the event. He made sure that models and influencers were talking highly about it. He made sure to put all of the accommodations and keywords that his particular demographic loved such as yoga, villas, beachfront property would pick up on. They definitely picked up on it without any hesitation. Billy knew exactly what he was doing by focusing on these things to help make the event a can’t miss event.


Use Your Email Marketing List
The last part of the documentary was probably the saddest part. As Billy was going down in flames and was out on bail he tried one last scam and that was used the email list that he developed from the FYRE Fest and tried to get people to purchase tickets to other events (that were fake, smh). Even though people weren’t going for it, what this highlighted to me was that he was effectively using his email list to create revenue. He already knew that the people that were apart of the list wanted to have exclusive access to certain big-name concerts and festivals, so being able to sell that same group of people to another list of exclusive events was smart. Even though you can tell he was just scavenging for money, he did do this the right way as far as fully understanding who his ideal customers were and selling them things they knew they would want and he used a great email list to make that happen.

So I’ll say it one more time, from watching the documentary Billy McFarland is a very scandalous individual but his marketing mindset was in-genius. So for the entrepreneurs, look at this documentary as entertainment but also as a master class in marketing because that is exactly what it was.

Shod.