Marketing Without Substance is a Dumpster Fyre

By now, you’ve probably read about the colossal failure of the Fyre Festival, the would-be luxury music festival experience on an island in the Exumas hyped by Billy McFarland and Ja Rule. I could dissect the disastrous lack of execution from an event planning standpoint, but you’d be better off reading 6 Things You are Likely to Forget at an Event by Jackson Spalding Events team member Jennifer Tucci (and knowing that all these and more were forgotten by the Fyre Festival organizers).

Instead, let’s look at the marketing that sold the Fyre Festival. McFarland invested heavily in a marketing video featuring chartered jets, sleek yachts and some of the highest paid models in the business. The text overlay promised a “transformative experience” that happens “on the boundaries of the impossible.” For the record, that boundary is purported to be on a private island once owned by Pablo Escobar. Oh, and P.S., his ownership is what one might categorize as an alternative fact.

An investor pitch deck leaked to the media features similarly glamorous visuals and aspirational calls to action such as “Come, seek, for searching is of the foundation of fortune.” The festival mastered a foundation of slick marketing that appealed to the target audience – the coveted status-seeking millennial. But in the end, the only product was the marketing. The organizers were lambasted on social media and now face a $100 million lawsuit.

With such a stark contrast between the promise and the cheese-sandwich-FEMA-tent delivery, it’s easy to see that the marketing was a house of cards. The portrayal of frolicking on the coast with models and the famous-for-being-famous influencers like Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid couldn’t have been further from the reality of the Fyre Festival.

The ultimate dissonance between brand and customer is when promises are broken. It happens when the expectations customers have based your brand marketing and your reputation are counter to what they experience in using your product or service. Fyre is such an egregious example as to be easily dismissed as something your brand would never do. And hopefully you aren’t failing customers on that scale. But it’s worth taking a hard look at your own hype and asking yourself if there’s substance behind it.

  • Look at your reviews: Online reviews are a bellwether of the customer experience.
  • Communicate with service delivery and product development teams: The frustrations your customers express will never be resolved if you don’t communicate with the teams empowered to change the customer experience.
  • Adjust your marketing: Don’t sell what you can’t deliver. At the end of the day, it’s your job as a marketer to establish an authentic relationship with the customer. If you can’t deliver a luxury experience on a private island, take an honest look at what you can deliver and make it your platform.

The Fyre Festival proves that there’s still tremendous power in marketing messages. Use that responsibly so your brand doesn’t land in its own dumpster fyre.