Pants on Fyre: 5 Key Takeaways Marketers Can Learn from the Festival that Never Was

You guys. It’s here. We are deep in the midst of summer.

Love it or hate it, summer is the time of year that brings the heat, and if you’re lucky, some time off to unwind as well. But what is hands-down, one of the best things about this season? Music festivals. 

That’s right, Festival Season is upon us, and if you are a music lover like we are, this may be your favorite time of year. What’s not to love? Musical lineups, plenty of opportunities to vibe out to great tunes and enjoy the sun with friends.

But what if a music festival offered even more? 

When Billy MacFarland came up with the concept for the now ignominious Fyre Festival, he saw the enormous potential of what a “luxury” music festival like the Fyre Fest could have for expanding the reach of his credit card company Magnises. MacFarland partnered with rapper Ja Rule, among others, and began a partnership that drew in more and higher investing collaborators into the scheme.

In an event that boasted of influencers, celebrities, swag, and incredible music, all located on a private island, MacFarland had all the ingredients for a festival that would go down in history. And indeed it has… but for one incredibly unfortunate reason: the hotly anticipated Fyre Festival never actually happened. 

In one of the most embarrassing and expensive marketing messes in recent memory, the fraudulent Fyre Festival implicated tons of (now) shame-faced celebrities, destroyed businesses, and cost festival goers thousands of dollars, resulting in the most epic festival fail of our lifetimes. But you have to hand it to MacFarland’s marketing team, the festival hype was legendary, for reasons both good and very bad. 

Still, nothing is a total failure if you learn something from it, and the Fyre Festival has offered up some pretty incredible lessons for marketers everywhere. Here, in the spirit of Festival Season, we list some key takeaways that every marketer can learn from the festival that never was.

Takeaway #1: Know Your Target Market & Give Them What They Want

Stop. Picture the average festival goer in your imagination. Who are they? What do they need? And how could you get it to them? 

Any successful marketer knows that one of the first steps to creating a successful brand strategy is truly getting to know your potential clients and customers. 

MacFarland knew he wanted to attract the kind of audience who could not only be persuaded to book a flight to a private island filled with celebrities, but also those that would spend incredible amounts of money while there. The fact that there was a large demographic of millennials in attendance who were armed to the teeth with their parents’ plastic (or a metal Magnises card) was no accident. Ethics aside, developing a user persona for your target audience is a key part of having a strong marketing strategy.

Takeaway #2: Don’t Promise What You Can’t Deliver

Unless you’re Ja Rule, the fact that the Fyre Festival never actually happened has to make even the lesser involved collaborators cringe. 

What was promised to attendees as “luxury villas” ended up being shared geodesic survival tents from FEMA, with no electricity to speak of… and that was if festival goers even made it out of the airport at all. Suffice it to say, there was no luxury, and certainly no music. 

It can happen to the best of us. What starts off as an incredible idea needs to become more than that, especially when client budgets, timelines and a team is involved. You need more than an idea: you need actionable steps to put those ideas in place. In short, your product needs to match your promise.

Takeaway #3: Effective Marketing Gets People in the Feels

The Fyre Festival capitalized on prospective festival goers’ sense of FOMO to create an unmissable sensory experience for them. In effect, people were willing to front their life’s savings to go to this once in a lifetime event that they would be sure to tell their grandkids about, barring the fact that Ja Rule’s efficacy wouldn’t be lost on future generations, which is another story for another day. 

Psychology plays so strongly into buyer behavior, and marketers for the Fyre Fest knew that. What they got right was the effective play on their target audience’s desire to belong to something exclusive, making the end product incredibly tantalizing.

Takeaway #4: Strong Visuals Have the Power to Get Things in Action

Whether it’s a landing page or video content, user experience is important. And nothing quite engages a potential client like strong visuals.

There is a reason that MacFarland persuaded some of the biggest influencers in the game to take to Instagram and build hype around this untested festival. 

An intensely visual platform, Instagram is the perfect stage for getting gorgeous visual content to go viral. The surge in IGTV has only built out this platform tenfold. During that time, prospective festival attendees were lured into the dream of luxury, moderate debauchery, and the chance to hobnob with their favorite celebrities through, among other things, the Fyre Fest Instagram account.


The takeaway?  If effective marketing is the kingdom, strong visuals are the queen. With the limited attention span most users have, it’s crucial that the visuals command them into action.

Takeaway #5: Building Trust is Important

The final marketing takeaway takes form in what didn’t happen: Building a sense of trust with clients.

When Fyre essentially burned to the ground, it took everything with it.  Customer money, labor, and the livelihoods of the island workers. It’s a fact: errors can come with a big expense. For both businesses, and their clients. 

The market can sometimes be unpredictable, and as much as we’d all love not to, there are times when miscalculations are made. It’s not the end of the world, but being honest and taking responsibility is key. In Fyre’s case, no reparations were made to any of the victims–only further attempts to draw them into the scam. 

So what happens if you take a wrong step somewhere in your marketing strategy? Own up to it, revise your strategy, be better, and be thankful that it wasn’t a full-scale, buying a private island with borrowed funds-sized error.

Even if we can look back at some of the biggest fails of our time, or even look back at some of our own, it’s helpful to come back armed with the lessons that they can teach us in our future marketing strategy. And if you lose your way somewhere? Give us a shout… We’re here to help get you back on track.