Fyre Festival – Importance of Reputation in the World of Influencer Marketing and Endorsements

By Niall McHugh

A recent Netflix documentary has shone a light on the now infamous Fyre Festival, focusing on its organisers and those impacted as a result of the disastrous and fraudulent events which took place on the Bahamian island of Great Exuma.

While the immersive festival disaster took place in 2017, the fall-out rumbles on with globally-known influencers named in U.S. subpoenas for financial information, as recently as the last week of January. Kendell Jenner (of Kardashian fame) is one such influencer who was reportedly paid $250,000 for a single Instagram post to promote the sale of tickets for Fyre Festival accompanied by discount codes for early adapters. A practice frequently seen from a variety of brands and ambassadors, which we all see on our own social media feeds on a daily basis.

Unlike the festival itself, the online campaign fulfilled its purpose in getting thousands of people to part with large sums of cash to travel to a new festival completely unheard of before its online promotion. In contrast, the festival organisers were not so successful, rather proven completely incompetent and failed to deliver on the event billed by influencers as an ‘immersive music festival and transformational experience’.

The Festival:

For those unaware, or yet to catch up on the Netflix documentary, between 5,000- 8,000 tickets were sold for the heavily promoted festival, at a cost ranging from $1,500 to $25,000 per ticket. Upon arrival, guests were greeted by chaos, broken promises, a completely cancelled festival, no food, water or any organisation whatsoever. Hundreds of guests were left stranded and locked in an airport in the Bahamas.  

In the aftermath, the now infamous Billy McFarland, organiser of the festival, received a six year prison sentence and was ordered to forfeit $26 million. McFarland pleaded guilty in March 2018 to wire-fraud charges in relation to Fyre Festival and in June 2018 was arrested on further charges.

While the implications for organisers and their reputations are clear, the role that social media played in Fyre Festival and the reputational risk for online promotion and endorsement, has come to the fore.


Post-documentary commentary has firmly put the spotlight on the role played by the ‘celebs’ paid to promote the festival. Many commentators have called for increased repercussions for all involved in the online promotion of the festival, and for bloggers to take increased responsibility for their part.

Aside from lacking transparency, the promotional activity lacked authenticity: what was promoted was not what awaited guests in the Bahamas. Reputations are built over time, both for bloggers and brands. The illusion often created in a similar vein to Fyre Festival, is that “you too can live the glamourous and luxurious lifestyle simply by purchasing this product or service”. #AD #SP

Closer to home, there are lessons to be learned from the documentary with a massive amount of influencer activity here in Ireland taking place at a more micro-level. The online commentary hammers home the need for campaigns and influencers to be transparent at all times with their following. Ultimately, this is a responsibility that should be encouraged and enforced by the brands themselves whose reputations stand to benefit from aligning themselves with the right people, and in doing so honestly and transparently.

It’s therefore essential to protect and enhance reputation through careful alignment and authentic partnerships where potential customers do not feel like they’ve had the rug pulled from under them.

Closer to home:

In Ireland, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASAI) is the self-regulatory body, self-appointed to regulate the advertising industry here. This includes influencer marketing and overall standards. Their most basic guideline is that all advertising (including online promotions) are ‘legal, decent, honest and truthful’, while their social media guidelines highlight the requirement for transparency at all times.

Between 2017 and 2018 an increasing number of Irish bloggers and ‘influencers’ came into the spotlight when their own tools were used against them and accounts such as ‘bloggers unveiled’ were set-up to call influencers out for their dishonesty and lack of transparency. A number of high profile Irish bloggers and influencers suffered significant damage to their own personal reputations as honest, genuine and likeable opinion leaders through dishonest marketing practices laid bare. While the bloggers bared the brunt of the critique, a number of brands were also brought into the conversation and publically criticised for: Associating themselves with dishonest influencers, encouraging unrealistic body standards, promoting unhealthy / unsafe practices, general misleading of consumers and more…

While most will tell you that real social influence online is carried out at micro-level, with Ireland being the perfect example - there is no doubting the role that big names played in getting rich and wealthy patrons to not only attend Fyre Festival but to spend thousands on additional extras and VIP exclusives.

To consider:

One of the main repercussions enforced by the ASAI is a ‘name and shame’ complaints bulletin, which by its nature, can maim the reputation of those who fall foul of its code.

While this may not be as damaging as being named in subpoenas or the fallout from Fyre Festival, it can certainly negatively impact the reputation of brands and influencers alike. Reputation is an important factor when considering who you use to endorse your business and whose businesses you choose to endorse…

Consumers tend to trust an individual’s social presence online more than they do a brands directly, highlighting the efficacy and benefits of aligning with an influencer for products or services. However, certain criteria still need to be met in the interest of maintaining and enhancing a reputation for both parties. Considerations should include:

  • Authenticity
  • Honesty
  • Transparency
  • Relevance
  • Other brands they’ve worked with
  • Frequency of branded content vs organic content

The wrong partnerships can be damaging for both, and careful consideration and professionalism by both parties is essential when entrusting or aligning your own reputation with that of another.

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