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Online Marketing Lessons from Fyre Festival

By now, you’ve seen the documentaries. (One aired on Netflix; the other, on Hulu.) It’s the kind of story you end up watching with your hands partly covering your eyes, for several reasons. That the situation departed from the planned luxury music festival experience is an understatement. To go from advertising a private villa experience to directing customers to rescue tents, something had to go wrong somewhere. Well — spoiler alert — multiple things went wrong, on multiple fronts. “Went wrong” is putting it lightly. And yes, legal action ensued on both the criminal and civil sides.

So what can we learn about online marketing from the Fyre Festival fiasco? This post will go through influencer marketing, email list manipulation, and false product descriptions on a website.

Online Marketing Lessons, Lesson 1: Using Influencers in Your Online Marketing…the Right Way

The Background: An influencer doesn’t have to be a reality television star or even Kim Kardashian to qualify as an influencer. An influencer is simply someone that has monetized his or her identity online. Remember how, in 2017, the FTC started cracking down on influencers and sponsored posts on social media? Well, that was a result of Fyre Festival’s flop. You see, supermodels and other influencers were posting about and promoting the festival. The FTC’s concern, after the fact, was that ordinary users on the Internet weren’t able to tell the difference between genuine opinion and a sponsored relationship between the Festival and the influencer.

The Lesson: Influencers must now be clear when there’s a sponsored or promotional relationship between the influencer and the brand. That doesn’t necessarily mean they have to disclose the amount of money involved. It can even be done in a playful or non-awkward way, e.g., “When [brand] first approached me….” But hard-to-miss clarity is key.

Online Marketing Lessons, Lesson 2: The Sacred Email List

The Background: There are rules for collecting email addresses, and there are guidelines. Thanks to the GDPR, everyone is pretty well aware that you have to have a “legal” basis for collecting personal information. The most common legal basis is “consent.” And not just enter-your-email-address-above-this-pre-checked-box-and-click-yes consent. That won’t cut it any longer, now that the GDPR is boss. Consent under the GDPR means giving the user enough information to make an actual yes or no decision. (That is, “Yes (or no), you can collect my information and use it in this way.”)

Master Serivce Agreement MSA Software Development Maria Spear Ollis Spear IP Nashville Tennessee Tech Attorney

The Lesson: One of the documentaries shows someone, allegedly at the behest of the Fyre founder, emailing Fyre Festival attendees regarding future events. And not just future events, but tickets to the Masters, the Grammys, the Met Gala, and other high-society, high-ticket events. Well, the law is pretty clear that you can’t contract away your responsibility to comply with legal requirements. In other words, if you hire someone to do your email marketing, you still have to comply with applicable law. That means things like having an accurate “From” description. It also means making sure that messages are clearly identified as advertisements. And, having an unsubscribe mechanism in place (and honoring requests to unsubscribe) are also key.

Online Marketing Lessons, Lesson 3: The Lanham Act and Misleading Product Descriptions

The Background: We learn from watching the documentaries that Fyre Festival was promoted as an incredible, luxury vacation and music festival experience. Attendees could book an incredible, beachfront villa. They could book yachts. Each of these experiences came with a hefty price tag, but people paid. Then, they arrived… and the reality was far from the enticing experiences they booked online.

The Lesson: The Lanham Act may sound familiar to you. It’s the act that governs trademarks and trademark infringement in the United States. False advertising and false product descriptions also fall under the Lanham Act. The Act allows a consumer to sue for advertising that “misrepresents the nature, characteristics, [or] qualities” of goods or services. 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a). The FTC can also enforce false advertising claims on a consumer’s behalf. (In case you didn’t notice, the FTC is the common thread, here. It wields the hammer when it comes to false or misleading communications that affect consumers.) So, if you sell someone a ticket to a private yacht with a Michelin-decorated chef, you’d better deliver on just that. It’s pretty simple: be accurate in your product or service descriptions. Be clear.

In sum, while the Fyre Festival documentaries were equal parts horrifying and entertaining, there were definitely online marketing lessons to be learned.