Chances are good that you have heard of the Fyre Festival, the biggest luxury music festival that never happened. Promoted as “an experience that exceeds all expectations” and marketed to the masses through social media, it promised festivalgoers an elite weekend to live like a celebrity. The event is also now the subject of top documentaries on Netflix and Hulu. The Fyre Festival saga is the ultimate story of what not to do when rolling out a new product or service offering. Here are four lessons marketers can learn from it:

1. Honesty is the best policy. Be upfront and honest in all marketing and promotional campaigns. It is important to not exaggerate or mislead customers. One of the biggest mistakes the Fyre Festival organizers made was using social media influencers, otherwise known as “Fyre Starters,” to promote a festival without acknowledging they were being paid to do so. Festival ticket buyers were also unaware that where the event was being held was not a remote location, but just a hop, skip and jump away from the popular Sandals Beach Resort, due to it being cropped out of promotional photos. Your business should follow all laws regarding truth in advertising laws, such as the Federal Trade Commission’s truth-in-advertising laws as well as FTC advertising and marketing guidelines here in the United States. These laws ensure that you are being truthful and non-deceptive. No matter how you decide to market, whether it be social media, radio, TV or email, there are always general rules you must adhere to in order to avoid legal troubles.

2. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Midway through the Fyre Festival planning process, it became evident that the cabanas that were promised as accommodations to customers that had paid in full would not be available after all. But the organizers did not make any effort to communicate this. When these attendees arrived to find disaster relief tents as their living quarters, they were understandably angry. Providing clear and easily accessible updates to customers is a must for establishing trust, whether the news is positive or negative. Have a page on your website where people can ask questions or receive customer support through chat or phone, update your social media when new information arises and respond to dissatisfied customers in a timely manner. Always under promise and over deliver when positioning your brand to get ahead of negative backlash, which can spread like wildfire on social media.

3. Have two plans. Before rolling out a new product or service, it is imperative to have a plan for how things should go and a plan for if you hit a snag along the way. Details are important when it comes to proper execution. A chaotic check-in process, limited quantities of water and food, non-existent plumbing and electrical, inclement weather, and unpaid performers and employees were amongst the crises faced by the Fyre Festival organizers because they failed to properly plan. There were many ideas Fyre Festival intended to bring from vision to reality, but marketing ideas before committing to a feasible plan is a recipe for disaster. Remember to:

  • Allocate budget accordingly and allow for extra expenses as a safety net.
  • Test your product or service internally or with a focus group before launching to find out what difficulties may arise.
  • Outline effective steps to remedy issues. Categorize concerns from minor to major.
  • Create a timeline of the actual proposed time it would take to resolve all levels of issues.
  • Be proactive and decide when you need to alert customers and other stakeholders.

4. Own your mistakes. There was a lot of silence from the Fyre Festival founders after things went awry. The organizers left the island all together while festivalgoers were stranded in tents ruined by rain. After a long delay, a pieced-together apology statement was put out publicly, which mostly translated to “it’s not our fault.” As you can imagine, this wasn’t received well. It’s best to be sincere with apologies so you don’t sound disingenuous. Your apology should also be timely to mitigate backlash from unhappy customers. Make your apology short and to the point. We all make mistakes and understanding that is key when communicating with customers.

The only arguable win Fyre Festival had was that their team flawlessly communicated a feeling by knowing exactly what their target market desired. Their seamless promotional video drew you in, creating a vision of remote beaches, jet skis across clear ocean waters and bonfires attended by beautiful people. It was a lavish lifestyle that suddenly seemed very attainable. Sadly, the Fyre Festival simply could not make that dream a reality.