By Jesse M. Brody, Partner, Advertising, Marketing and Media
The Fyre Festival’s catalog of errors includes the failure to disclose sponsored promotions, according to one of the multiple class actions filed against the organizers.
Touted as a one-of-a-kind destination music festival, the stories of travel problems, lack of housing and struggles to find food on an island in the Bahamas unprepared for the onslaught of visitors went viral, resulting in a high-profile flameout for the Fyre organizers.
Breach of contract and fraud lawsuits quickly followed, as well as a California state court complaint that alleges the defendants also tricked consumers into attending by paying celebrities and social media influencers to promote the festival, while failing to disclose the sponsored endorsements.
Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner and Emily Ratajkowski, among others, created buzz for the event, the suit alleged, yet did not disclose they were paid in violation of FTC regulations. “These ‘influencers’ posted content to social media, with captions and language that promoted the Festival and hashtags such as #FyreFestival that made it readily accessible to consumers,” according to a trio of attendees. “Social media ‘influencers’ made no attempt to disclose to consumers that they were being compensated for promoting the Fyre Festival.”
This failure to disclose stands “in direct violation of the Federal Trade Commission Guidelines on disclosing material connections between advertisers and endorsers,” the plaintiffs told the court.
Other false advertising for the event included promotional materials depicting “breathtaking Caribbean locations, stunning beach-side villas, yachts with models draped over the top, and other luxurious amenities,” although when festival attendees arrived on Exuma Island, “they found the actual conditions to be horrific. The festival grounds were barren and disorganized. Luggage was haphazardly thrown from shipping crates onto the beach. The villas that were billed as upscale beach tents were tents that resembled those used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in times of disaster. The tents themselves were empty and did not include any furnishings.”
“As Plaintiffs began to grasp the dire nature of the situation, upon witnessing the complete lack of infrastructure necessary to host such an event, a panic enveloped the crowd,” the complaint detailed. “Plaintiffs were stuck on the island, with no way off.”
The defendants knew at least a month before the event that they would not be able to deliver on their claims, the suit alleged, and yet made no effort to warn attendees or mitigate the situation.
To recover on the unfulfilled promise of an unrivaled music festival experience, the plaintiffs requested injunctive relief as well as costs, restitution, damages (including punitive damages) and disgorgement.
To read the complaint in Chinery v. Fyre Media Inc., click here.
Why it matters: As the debacle unfolded, Vanity Fair managed to get its hands on a pitch deck for the Fyre Festival marketing campaign, which revealed that the organizers recruited more than 400 “Fyre Starters” to promote the event. Influencers were offered packages including free flights, rooms and event tickets, with a value of up to $12,500. In return, social media followers provided more than 300 million impressions in just the first two days of the promotional campaign, the publication found. The alleged violations of the FTC’s guidelines could not have come at a worse time, as the agency recently cracked down on marketers and influencers alike in more than 90 letters.