From FYRE festival to influencers being called out – what does this mean for PR?

From FYRE festival to influencers being called out – what does this mean for PR?

It’s no surprise to anyone that the influencer landscape is going through a weird time surrounding its credibility and transparency. Over the last few days my timeline has been filled to the brim with endless stories on advertising guidelines and the so-called ‘Fyre festival’. I honestly had never heard of the ‘Fyre festival’ until recently and when I realised there was a Netflix documentary on it, I knew I needed to watch it. Seeing as the festival was such a huge deal online, I’m surprised I missed it. At the same time the guidelines for influencer marketing have become stricter and part of me wonders what this means for the Public Relations industry.

Hold on a second…what is the Fyre Festival?

Before I get any further, for those of you who like me until the other day had no idea what this was, read on. The Fyre festival was a three day luxurious festival for the social elite organised by a man called Billy McFarland back in 2017. This festival was on an island in the Bahamas with an encouraging line up charging up to £75,000 a ticket. Yes, you heard that part right, £75,000 a ticket. With glamorous advertising and influencers such as Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid endorsing the festival, it seemed like Instagrams ‘dream’ festival. Except this really wasn’t what it was.

To start with, the festival ended up being on a completely different island after the advertising commercial broke the conditions of the lease. Whoops. There just wasn’t enough time or manpower to pull the festival off and by the time the partygoers arrived, it was more like a deserted festival scene rather than the Instagram dream advertised. There was nowhere near enough accommodation for all the guests which caused a free for all with festival-goers running around the small site just to grab themselves a mattress and toilet paper for the night. It was hardly the luxurious dream they were all sold and the food….well see below and you tell me if you’d expect that from a luxury festival you’ve paid £75,000 to attend.


Not exactly what you would imagine Bella Hadid eating in the Bahamas is it.

If you ask me, they cut themselves short by expecting to organise the festival in such short time. It lacked organisation and focused on greed, getting the most money out of their customers than the logistics of providing exactly what they were selling. Greed and glamourisation. How much more money can we take and how good can we pretend it is going to look. Following on from the festival, local workers were owed millions and Billy himself is now serving a prison sentence for fraud. If you haven’t watched the documentary, head over to Netflix. It’s incredibly interesting to see how many people were tricked into such a well-advertised festival. In reality, from powerful and influential models posting a simple orange tile on Instagram, a hype was built up for a festival which was really just an Instagram commercial and a load of hurricane tents.

Is Instagram to blame?

That many people were willing to pay that amount of money from seeing a simple orange tile on Instagram and good advertising. Those influencers were trusted that what they were sharing is what they could expect. I mean, do you blame them? A festival on an island in the Bahamas will sound like a dream to anyone. It is a brilliant example of how influencer marketing can be misleading. These influencers didn’t really know what they were promoting and only one actually disclosed their post as an ad. Without disclosing the post as an ad it isn’t clear they have been paid to post and therefore, what they are saying can be misleading.

It was only whilst procrastinating from writing this post that I saw an influencer calling out other influencers for promoting weight loss teas. The same idea is applicable here but what makes it worse is these products are health-related and nowhere in the posts did it say they were sponsored so it looks genuine. She made a valid point that influencers should be aware of the influence they hold over their followers. But does Kylie Jenner really think that much into it when presented with such a big cheque? Does money overcome authenticity when you get to a certain period of fame?

Let’s not forget the timing of this documentary either. All of this came to light at the same time the Competition and Markets Authority have warned a selection of influential figures that some of their posts are not using the right guidelines for advertisements sending a reminder to the industry.

Consumers are becoming more aware which requires more transparency. They aren’t stupid. It makes me question whether the industry is yet again being dragged through the dirt. It is a newish industry and one that is so accessible and in the public spotlight constantly. Are celebrity influencers really genuine anymore? How do consumers decide what is authentic or not in the few seconds they are interacting with a social media post? Where do these consumers draw the line? I know on placement we worked with micro-influencers for their more targeted, engaged audience so does a situation like this pave the way for these accounts?

I’ve seen such a mix of response to these ‘new’ guidelines and it’s hard to ascertain whether people think it is a good or a bad thing. To me, reading what happened with the Fyre festival reminded me of how believable something on Instagram can be. Is a refresh in education such a bad thing or will it just mean a reduction in sharable content? It does make me wonder how the next few months will be in PR and how careful people may or may not become.





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