3 Key Lessons To Learn From The Fyre Festival

In case you haven’t looked at your Netflix or Hulu queues lately, you may have missed the two competing and newly released documentaries on the Fyre Festival, one of the most infamous PR disasters of 2017 (yes, people are still talking about it…and you’re about to learn why!). Like with other bona fide public relations catastrophes, the one positive element is that we marketers can learn from them—without actually having to go through the ordeals ourselves.

Fyre Festival: A Summary

For those who have been spared the full experience, here’s a quick run-down: Founder Billy McFarland promised potential attendees a VIP experience on an island in the Bahamas, sort of a “Coachella in the Caribbean,” if you will, complete with luxury accommodations and posh catering. The event was promoted by supermodels the likes of Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner, in addition to other high-profile models and influencers. It looked to be the event of the decade, and with a price tag to match: single-day tickets ran between $500-1,500, and attendees who went the VIP route paid up to $12,000(!). However, when attendees actually arrived…they were met with old hurricane relief tents and bread, a slice of cheese, and dressing-less salad for food. If you can imagine a mixture of Castaway and The Wolf of Wall Street, that’s about what happened here.

Now that we’re all up to speed, let’s move on to what’s really important here: the insight fresh produce marketers can gain from this hot mess of a faux-fest—and use to elevate their brands. Here are three things marketers can (and should!) take from the Fyre Festival fiasco:

Killer marketing tactics

Now, the festival itself may have been a disaster, but the pre-emptive marketing tactics were extremely effective. Unethical and reprehensible, yes, but also effective. Case in point: Fyre Festival tickets sold out in two days—quite a feat for a brand new music festival with no real details or logistics. Think for a moment: if you work in marketing, you know how difficult it is! So how did they—without even having the leverage of an actual product or service—manage to convince so many people to go to this event, in spite of the fact that there was neither an itinerary nor even an email until a few weeks before show time?

The answer is simple: brilliant marketing, which included in-depth audience insight and very deliberate, strategic actions centered around that audience. Behind the scenes, however, McFarland was recorded telling the models he hired for the promotional video that his vision was to “[sell] a pipe dream for the average loser.”

Editor’s note: we do not recommend naming any of your personas “Average Loser” when you set them up in Hubspot.

TLDR (Too Long, Didn’t Read): Identify your target audience(s) and structure a marketing plan around their interests.


Where to even begin… The plain and simple truth is that McFarland was never transparent with his team or the attendees. For example, the marketing team was told to delete negative comments off social media and then immediately block the users who made the comments. The team was also told to flag comments that included general words like “lineup,” “performers,” “details,” “info,” flights,” “fraud,” “stupid,” and “scam.”

Festival attendees were promised luxury villas, mansions and suites as their accommodations. What did they arrive to? FEMA-style tents thrown up the day before a huge rainstorm. This is McFarland’s response to the tents in the documentary, as reported in Vulture:

“We have 250 houses rented for millions of dollars with paper receipts and pictures of every house. [Pause.] We had a box of physical keys, cars to take people there, and maps for every single house, and the box of keys … uh … unfortunately it went missing.” Producer asks, “So why didn’t he just break that news to attendees?” [McFarland blinks. Stares at ground. Internal panicking ensues.]

This is the only food that festival goers received upon arrival in the Bahamas.

Fyre Fest Marketing Lessons-DMA Solutions-2

These are old FEMA-style tents used for hurricane relief that were repurposed for the “luxury experience” at Fyre Festival.

Photo credit: Hulu

TLDR:  Always, always, always be transparent about your marketing activities! Especially when it comes to things like how you will use consumers’ personal information


The Fyre Festival announcement video touts that the event would be located on a private island once owned by Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. However, the condition of the island purchase was to not mention Escobar’s name whatsoever. Therefore, once the promo video went out, the Fyre Festival crew was kicked off. Everyone had to find another location two months before the festival date.

McFarland ended up choosing a public island in the Exumas next to the Sandals Emerald Bay Resort. Since the festival wasn’t going to take place on a private island, photos were cropped to make it look as such, but there wasn’t even a beach within walking distance! As if that weren’t bad enough, Fyre Festival fell on the exact same weekend as an island regatta, completely wiping out lodging accommodations.

With only two months to bring an entire festival to life, everything started to fall apart. McFarland started hiring more and more Bahamians to help expedite the process, but there was nothing that could be done to squeeze out six months of work in a few weeks.

As a general rule, it’s always best to think deeply about your marketing efforts and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who am I trying to reach?
  • What is the purpose of this campaign?
  • What planning steps need to be taken?
  • When will we schedule progress meetings?
  • Why are we doing this marketing tactic?
  • What are we doing to protect our customers?


TLDR: Don’t violate contracts and non-disclosure agreements—and don’t wait until the last minute to consider and complete all assets needed to make your project a success!


Overall (ethics completely aside), the Fyre Festival serves as an excellent reminder to marketers and businesses alike of the consequences of improper planning. After all, none of us want to live through a similar experience!

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Header image credit: YouTube