In the Wake of Fyre Festival Fiasco, Will the Effectiveness of Celebrity Influencers Take a Hit?

Ja Rule, Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner were connected to the event

Things did not go as planned at the first Fyre Festival. Photo Illustration: Dianna McDougall; Source: Twitter
Headshot of Katie Richards

For a select few music lovers with wanderlust, Thursday was supposed to be the beginning of an amazing weekend, one filled with performances by Migos and Disclosure, booze and private planes. It was meant to be the first Fyre Festival, an event organized in part by rapper Ja Rule. But sadly for those who dropped thousands of dollars—seriously some people spent $12,000 on packages for the weekend—on a “once-in-a-lifetime musical experience,” things didn’t quite go as planned.

“It literally looks like Katrina in the Bahamas,” Devon Wijesinghe, CEO of influencer marketing company InsightPool, said of the event, as photos from the Bahamas spread across Twitter showing the disastrous festival in action.

“Is this the festival equivalent of fake news?” Neil Hughston, CEO of creative agency Duke asked. “I find it almost incomprehensible. People have either got too much money to know what they are dealing with or they thought this was going to be the event of the century.”

The delectable, high-quality meals? Two slices of bread and cheese. Liquor flowing all weekend long? Non-existent. The cozy yet luxurious accommodations or “eco-friendly, geodesic domes” promised to attendees? Actually disaster relief tents.

So, yeah. Not great for the festival, organizers like Ja Rule and celebrity influencers who promoted the event ahead of time. Late last year a group of famous models–from Emily Ratajkowski and Bella Hadid–ventured down to the Bahamas for a photo shoot of epic proportions to strike envy among their massive followers (Hadid boasts 12.4 million Instagram followers). Hadid was even featured in a promotional video for the event. Other celebs like Kendall Jenner (with her whopping 79.5 million Instagram followers) promoted the upcoming festival on their social channels.

As photos from the event began to flood Twitter, the event posted a short note on its website, removing all other content from the page. The event has since been canceled and any attendees that managed to make it down to the Bahamas, some who have had passports and other possessions stolen, are trying to find their way back home.

However many of the celebrity influencers who promoted the event so heavily have remained silent. Some, including Kendall Jenner, have removed any mention of the festival from their social feeds. Even event organizer Ja Rule had remained silent in the hours following the Twitter backlash but has since tweeted a statement.

So what does this mean for the future of celebrity influencers working with brands?

“What I think is going to happen is people are not going to trust what I call tentpole promotions from celebrities,” Wijesinghe argued.

It’s one thing if its a celebrity like Jennifer Aniston who is working with a brand like Aveno over time and developing a long-term relationship with that brand, he argued. When it comes to celebrities simply being paid money to post about a product, that’s where Wijesinghe argues brands need to rethink the strategy. “This paid for posting crap has to go away because these types of debacles happen. That’s just going to get obliterated.”

“The benefit of using celebrity influencers is that they deliver credibility and trust,” added Kerry Perse, head of social media for OMD. “This is an instance where this is the first year the festival was going to take place. The highest of luxuries was promised and obviously they didn’t deliver on it so consumers need to be more cautious and aware that just because celebrities attach their names to something doesn’t mean that they can trust it.”

“Brands definitely need to be cautious,” Perse added. “Use traditional reasoning. Celebrities can be paid to endorse and promote something but it doesn’t necessarily guarantee the outcome they are looking for.”

Perse isn’t sure that the celebrity influencer who promoted the event will suffer too much in the weeks following this event. “I don’t know if it will have a direct negative impact on someone like a Kendall Jenner, but I do think the more this type of thing happens people will become smarter and realize the celebrity wasn’t actually endorsing it, but it was a business relationship,” she said.

Others disagree. Hughston wonders if, “after this episode one would question if any of those influencers have any credibility left at all. I would suspect not.”

Moving forward Perse’s advice for brands and influencers, in order to create content that consumers will actually engage with and avoid disasters like Fyre Festival, is to develop richer relationships that aren’t just one sided, where a brand simply pays you for posting something. “Figure out if there is a natural partnership there. Does the brand and influencer share values? Can they work together to make one another easier to discover? The relationship needs to be more sophisticated and be much more involved than paying for a post,” she said.

@ktjrichards Katie Richards is a staff writer for Adweek.