Brand Strategy

A conversation with Billy McFarland about Fyre Fest 2

“I think pretty much all the marketing groups we spoke with really advised us to try to re-create this moment,” McFarland told us. “We took a really strong opposite approach to that.”
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Francis Scialabba

· 6 min read

One of the biggest cultural moments of the 2010s was one that didn’t happen: Anyone with a pulse in 2017 remembers Fyre Fest, the doomed luxury music festival that pulled out all the marketing stops.

Think supermodels like Kendall Jenner as part of a curated influencer group the festival referred to as “Fyre starters” posting blank orange tiles on their Instagram pages, igniting confusion and online discussion. Think a viral, splashy ad featuring other models like Bella Hadid and Hailey Bieber at the beach.

However, it all fell apart when the festival didn’t actually happen due to poor planning, which stranded festival attendees on the Bahamian island of Exuma. (You remember the infamous photo of a pathetic-looking cheese sandwich taken by a festival attendee that went viral on Twitter.) In 2018, entrepreneur and festival co-creator Billy McFarland pled guilty to charges related to defrauding both festival investors and vendors.

The incident birthed documentaries on Netflix and Hulu, as well as four years in a federal prison for the man behind it all: McFarland, who owes roughly $26 million to those he defrauded. It wasn’t the first time McFarland has been associated with questionable business ventures, either (Google “Magnises” to find out more).

Now McFarland, who got out of prison last year, is back with plans for Fyre Fest 2. The first drop of pre-sale tickets for the event—scheduled for December 6, 2024, at an undisclosed Caribbean island—have sold out (100 went for about $500 a pop), according to the event’s website.

McFarland spoke with Marketing Brew about how he’s rolling out the second iteration of the infamous event with the help of a festival company he would not disclose.

How are you marketing the second iteration of Fyre Fest to risk-averse investors who may have been spooked by the outcome of the first Fyre Fest?

It’s all about the awareness. Since 2016, Fyre’s had like 32 billion mentions across social media that makes us the largest, or most-talked-about, festival in the world by a few times. The second largest is Coachella, and we’re like three and a half times that over the past seven years, and there’s a huge drop-off to third place. I think the opportunity here is all about working with a great festival company to bring the Fyre vision to life [and] share it with the world. Of course, this is an amazing opportunity to start paying back everybody that’s owed from the ramifications of Fyre One and get that squared away and then obviously build a big business going forward.

Since you went to jail over wire-fraud charges related to Fyre Fest, are there any court-imposed restrictions on what you can do with Fyre Fest 2?

Yes, I can’t be an officer or director of a publicly traded company. So we’ll see. I just hope to rebuild my track record and rebuild trust over the years and beyond the success of Fyre Festival…Rebuilding trust is a theme that is super important for me. Hopefully, by doing that, over the years to come, that will reopen opportunities.

Last time, you had influencers and models post the infamous orange tile. What have you been doing to market the second Fyre Fest?

This is a topic of debate internally over the past couple of months. I think pretty much all the marketing groups we spoke with really advised us to try to re-create this moment. We took a really strong opposite approach to that. I think in 2016, we had 400 of the most-followed people in the world all post this orange tile at exactly the same time. That obviously creates a cultural moment. I think any attempt to re-create that will never be as good.

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I think with Fyre 2 our marketing approach is totally different, and that’s just to create controversy. We don’t want things to look too good, but we don’t want things to look too bad either. We want 60% of people wanting to come to Fyre to essentially see me get knocked out and to see Fyre fail, then 40% wanting to be there when it’s really, really good. I think my job is to create controversy, where we have some good things come through, a lot of negative things come through, and no one really knows what’s going on inside the storm. Ultimately, behind the scenes, we have a great company executing on the logistics.

You mentioned in an Instagram video that you are doing pop-ups and events across the world in the lead up to the event. Could you disclose more details around those activations?

Yes, I think it’s really important just to start getting the core supporters of Fyre together, whether that’s having special Fyre areas at the festivals that our partner company will run over the next year and a half, or whether it’s doing our own kind of Fyre House pop-ups across the US. I think it’s really, really important to get that core demographic together and just take them outside of their comfort zone. It’s something we did really well on a smaller scale with my credit card company called Magnises, and then ultimately did for years in the Bahamas prior to Fyre Festival where we take a couple of dozen people for these small trips. We’re trying to get back to what worked really, really well and use that to help rebuild the Fyre brand and community.

You also mentioned in the video that you’re working on a documentary and a Broadway play. Could you talk more about those as well?

Fyre Festival is not going to be limited to just a singular music festival. I think that kind of marquee festival is really important to get the monkey off my back. As a standalone business, it’s great, but I think the theme of Fyre can live far beyond that.

I think the other thing I’m really excited about is this Broadway musical. We are partnering with an incredible production company who’s assembling the who’s who team of Broadway superstars to turn Broadway into Fyre. I think that’s really cool. It’s a combination of current music artists in a Broadway format. I think it’s a really fun way to tell the Fyre story [with] a living and breathing component.

Then all this stuff behind the scenes is being captured for season two of a documentary. People will be able to see the ups and downs of entrepreneurship and trying to bring people together to launch Fyre.

When you say Fyre being more of a vision beyond just this festival, do you see Fyre becoming other forms of media as well beyond the documentary and play?

For sure. I’d love to have a Fyre hotel eventually, and to essentially make a permanent home base for these trips that we ran successfully for years where I can host two or three dozen people on a Caribbean island or maybe an island elsewhere.

How many people are working on putting Fyre Fest 2 together?

Our internal siloed team is around 10. The company we’re partnering with is a massive business doing billions of dollars a year in revenue, so they’ll have an internal team that's full-time Fyre that’s kind of separate from our Fyre team. Then we’ll work together in a joint venture capacity.

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