Faking it, not quite making it

Unless you’ve been living on a Caribbean island with spotty wi-fi, you’ve heard the buzz and seen the memes following Netflix and Hulu’s competing Fyre Festival documentaries.

The story of how Billy McFarland and Ja Rule planned a festival in the Bahamas (on one of Pablo Escobar’s former islands no less!) without sufficient funds, or executional knowhow is mesmerizing. It was also highly entertaining—you can’t script characters like Ja Rule, Billy McFarland and Andy King (Google Andy King memes if you haven’t already).

As a marketer—I can’t help but marvel at their promotional strategy. The organizers have been heavily chastised for using models to build their brand which I don’t get.

Hiring the top 10 titans of the modelling industry with stratospheric Instagram follower numbers feels like a no-brainer. Models have been hawking products since before there were runways and fashion weeks.

There’s also nothing wrong with tapping 400 global influencers to launch coordinated posts at the same time. Who doesn’t love a global groundswell campaign? And it was effective. Music festivals rarely sell out in the first year and Fyre sold out in a blink.

The real problem (at least from a marketing perspective) was on the part of our insta-famous participants.

Earning cash for being famous is old news. The problem is their complete lack of transparency. Instead of adding #ad and following influencer norms they are guilty of hidden endorsements. It’s been reported that Kendall Jenner earned $250,000 to post about a festival she didn’t plan on attending. Vice reported that no one received less than $20,000. Clearly the Fyre team should’ve directed much of that money towards execution instead of letting it burn in the pockets of beautiful people.

In the era of fake news and data manipulation, cases of overt influencer fraud have consumers even more wary. While there are days it feels like we’ve reached peak influencer—I still believe there is a role for insta-personalities to play in marketing.

The key to this—like any tactic is to cater to your audience:

  • Stay authentic (no, really!) to your personal brand: Don’t promote something you wouldn’t buy;
  • Be transparent: If you’re getting paid, use #ad or #sponsored—it’s not just the right thing to do, it’s what you’re required to do;
  • Be choosy: Don’t promote every item that comes your way.
  • And for marketers, go micro: Focus on key communities of interest rather than numbers of followers.

Insta-relationships aren’t that much different from the ones we have IRL. When well executed, influencers offer a window into their intimate life. When it goes poorly, it can feel like a personal betrayal. When building any kind of partnership, brands need to carefully vet who they’re hanging out with. By the same token, influencers need to make sure the companies they associate with are legitimate. Audiences can always tell when a relationship is working and when the couple’s faking it.

Elana Schachter is the director of content strategy at Sid Lee in Toronto. 

David Brown