Dubbed ‘the greatest party that never happened’, Fyre Festival has become a catchall term for failure.

The 2017 festival – which has recently come back into public consciousness due to Netflix and Hulu documentaries – sold the dream of an idyllic, VIP-style party on a remote island in the Bahamas.

Influencers played a large part in the marketing of the event, with many high profile personalities being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote it on social media.

We all know how it turned out. (If you don’t, perhaps save this for after you’ve watched one of the docs). But, what’s happened to the influencers caught up in the scandal? And more to the point: what has been the impact on influencer marketing as a whole? Here’s more on the story.

Influencers involved in Fyre

One of the main debates in the aftermath of Fyre festival has been whether or not the influencers who were paid to promote it should be held accountable. This is because the influencers involved with the promotional video portrayed an experience that ended up being far removed from the reality of the actual event.

Secondly, there is a question about disclosure. Kendall Jenner was reportedly paid $250,000 for a single Instagram post about Kanye West’s G.O.O.D Music family performing at event – Jenner did not disclose that it was an ad, instead posting about it as if it were a personal recommendation, for which the FTC issued a warning.

Some influencers like Gigi Hadid have indeed apologised for their involvement, but have also maintained that they had no real knowledge about the ‘production or process’ of the event by way of defence. Essentially, they believed the festival would pan out as promised, just like paying customers did.

So, what has happened since?

In January, it was reported that IMG Models, DNA Model Management and Jerry Media (which was in charge of social promotion) are the subject of subpoena requests by the trustee overseeing the bankruptcy of Fyre Media. The intention is to find out how much money was involved and where it went.

This comes in light of a wider tightening up of influencer regulation.

ASA crackdown

Indeed, since Fyre festival happened, the ASA has enforced tighter rules and regulations.

Earlier this year, the ASA warned hundreds of social media influencers to comply with stricter rules, and to ensure that all sponsored or paid-for content is clearly labelled. Meanwhile, the CMA undertook an investigation into those breaking the rules, leading to 16 high-profile personalities (including Zoella and Alexa Chung) agreeing to be more explicit in order to protect themselves from court action.

On the back of this, it does appear that there has been a general overall improvement in disclosure, with influencers going above and beyond to state brand involvement.

Influencer backlash

There is good reason to enforce stricter rules. As the Fyre debacle proves, influencers can have a real impact on audience perception, and in the worst cases, make them believe something is authentic and truthful, when it is in fact it is solely the result of a brand deal. 

Of course, this is not always the case, with best practice proving that genuine and transparent influencer marketing can indeed result in positive brand sentiment as well as an increase in sales. From a consumer perspective – with cynicism towards influencers growing – greater transparency can only be a good thing.

Elsewhere, however, influencer marketing is also suffering from a wider backlash – and not just in terms of disclosing ads, but the type of content that influencers are promoting. Recently, actor and campaigner Jameela Jamil has been calling out harmful celebrity and influencer endorsements for weight loss pills and supplements, as well as plastic surgery and airbrushing.

One particularly on-the-nose tweet states: “Give us the discount codes to your nutritionists, personal chefs, personal trainers, airbrushers and plastic surgeons you bloody liars.” This perfectly sums up the harm that influencers can have on impressionable young people, leading them to believe that they too can look a certain way if they buy in to a particular product.

Will influencer marketing become less popular?

As it stands, there is no regulation in place to prevent the promotion of weight loss products and the like. However, these types of influencers are likely to come under increasing scrutiny as the wider industry becomes more regulated.

In terms of the impact on the industry itself, it doesn’t seem that influencer marketing is in danger. In fact, budgets increased in 2018, and it seems unlikely that they will take much of a hit this year.

In relation to the Fyre debacle, it’s pretty clear both the festival organisers and the influencers themselves had a responsibility to ensure transparency. There was a clear lack of alignment between the brand and the influencers from the start, with no communication, collaboration, or shared goal – the key to any successful influencer campaign. Again, whether or not the influencers should be penalised is up for debate. 

What can influencers do to ensure best practice?

In order to prevent situations like Fyre from happening, it’s vital that influencers, brands, and agencies practice due diligence when it comes to campaigns. From a brand perspective, this means ensuring that influencers have practiced transparency in previous work, as well as have an authentic and genuine relationship with audiences.

On the other side of the spectrum, influencers must also practice what they preach, and ensure that the brands they choose to work with align with their own values and audiences. 

Of course, influencers looking to make a tonne of money (with little care or due diligence) will naturally still exist. However, on the back of Fyre festival, and the growing disdain for those that flout the rules or promote harmful products, this could be the year that they are finally weeded out.

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