Fyre Festival Owner Faces 40 Years In Prison For Wire Fraud And Fines For Violating Advertising Laws

Fyre Festival Owner Faces 40 Years In Prison For Wire Fraud And Fines For Violating Advertising Laws

Most people have heard of the infamous Fyre Festival incident that played out last year in April. The supposed ultra luxurious festival was supposed to take place on a small Bahamian island and include five-star accommodations and a world-renowned lineup of musicians, chefs, and celebrities. Unfortunately, when guests arrived on the island, they found nothing that was promised. In fact, most reported a lack of even basic supplies and plumbing. The chaos soon played out over social media as one of the most entertaining meltdowns in the 21st century.

The Players Involved

Fyre Festival was the brainchild of Billy McFarland. A 20 something college drop out who used his family’s wealth to start a credit card which catered exclusively to the hip and young New York elite. While the card has been reported to have a host of issues and widely be a scam, it continued to do decently well in some social circles. Soon McFarland met up with hip-hop mogul Ja Rule and together on a trip to the Bahamas the duo incepted the idea of Fyre Festival.

Within months of thinking of the idea, tickets were already being sold for the event, which was to take place in only a few months time. Despite rumors of the festival being under planned, and that McFarland and Ja Rule had more or less no idea what they were doing, tickets sold quickly for an event which promised an extravagant experience for a cheap price.

Consumers were wooed by an Instagram campaign ran by McFarland and top influencers on social media. This would eventually come back to haunt the company when the house of cards fell down.

The Disaster

Despite literally not having a fraction of what was promised, Fyre Festival flew attendees to a small Bahamian island aptly named, Fyre Caye. On the island, guests found old hurricane relief shelters instead of ‘luxury villas’, and cheese sandwiches instead of 5-star meals. Immediately social media erupted with the truth about Fyre Festival and things started to collapse. What was an attempt to pull off an incredibly complex festival devolved into a humanitarian crisis as thousands were stuck on an island with little supplies to satiate even basic human needs.

Eventually, those seemingly stranded got flights back to Florida, and within days McFarland was arrested on wire fraud charges. Millions of dollars from investors was spent on the accompanying advertising campaign, while little was actually invested into the festival itself.

A Look At Digital Advertising Ethics

McFarland pled guilty to 2 counts of wire fraud yesterday with open sentencing. While each count carries a maximum sentence of 20 years, McFarland is expected to be sentenced to much less. A class-action lawsuit was filed against Fyre Festival and the influencers who were contracted to post about the festival on social media.

The lawsuit got off the ground because the influencers (mainly models and other celebrities) failed to use the hashtag #ad, which is required by the FTC for social media content which has been paid for by an investor for a product. Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid were two of the influencers who failed to denote their posts were in fact ads, and now it seems that they will be paying for it.

In The End…

Fyre Festival is a perfect example of how false advertising mixed with sound social media campaign can be incredibly dangerous. Millions were reached by the influencer campaign on social medias, even though none of what was advertised was true. The FTC has fined many of the influencers and McFarland millions for their wrongdoing. Moving forward it is important to learn from the lessons of Fyre Festival when conducting a digital advertising campaign or when absorbing content as a consumer. Remember – if it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. Even if a Kardashian is promising that it is legit.

About author

Erik Mahal

Music blogger, SEO and digital advertising dork, and above all - corgi aficionado