The new Netflix documentary Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never Happened, shed light on how the most highly anticipated festival of 2017 was built on lies, empty promises and – Instagram. The festival was scheduled to take place on the Bahamian island of Great Exuma over two weekends in April and May but was ultimately cancelled. After months of anticipation, the luxury paradise experience turned out to be severely mismanaged, if not a complete scam. How did so many people take the bait?
Influencers in the digital space
Did your parents tell you not to talk to strangers on the Internet when you were younger? Since then, the internet landscape has changed tremendously, and so has user’s online behaviour. Initially, we used social media as a tool to connect with our friends. Now, more than ever, we’re reaching out to beyond people we have offline relationships with. You’re probably not only talking to strangers on the internet nowadays, but following them too!
Clearly, our trust in others online has increased. Research by Dutch scholar Marjolijn Antheunis suggests that making more digital connections ultimately leads to an increased sense of togetherness between online users. Ordinary Instagram users have amassed thousands of followers doing ordinary things, simply because people are moving to the online sphere to find their community. In some cases, these social media ‘influencers’ are considered to be a part of their followers daily life and an extension of their existing social circles. We now trust strangers on the internet and it shows: 92% of consumers trust an influencer’s opinion about a product or service – someone they have never met in real life.
Fyre Festival frenzy
So what do you get if you put 10 of the most popular Instagram models on a paradise island in a promo video for an exclusive festival experience? A full-blown social media hype. After the video was launched, another 400 Instagram influencers posted nothing more than an orange tile with #fyrefestival in the caption, reaching millions of followers. “Who was playing, what the food was gonna be, all the things that typically sell a music festival wasn’t a sales point. This was like selling a dream, selling a trip, selling a concept”. And this was a concept no one wanted to miss out on: within 48 hours, 95% of the tickets were sold, with VIP packages selling for as much as $12,000.
Upon arrival, the festival-goers immediately realized they were essentially sold hot air. They were transported by regular Boeing 737’s instead of private jets, luxury accommodation turned out to be FEMA disaster relief tents, and the cuisine consisted of dry cheese sandwiches. Within hours, the promised paradise dream turned into a Lord of the Flies-style nightmare. The organisers had no choice but to cancel the event.
Should we blame Kendall Jenner for selling millennials all over the world nothing more than an illusion? The Fyre documentary is a reminder of the remarkable power of influencer marketing, and anything too powerful eventually becomes regulated. After the backlash of the Fyre Festival disaster, new legislation has been introduced to ensure the transparency of influencer marketing. Despite our Instagram celebrities now having to disclose their paid promotion by using #ad or #spon, influencer marketing is here to stay, and it shows no sign of slowing down.
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