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Published June 15th 2018

Fake it ‘Til You Make it (Or Don’t) Part 1: The Events That Over-Promised

Our "Fake it 'til you make it" blog series zooms in on the shiny veil social media can place over shaky foundations. Our first installment focuses on events that over-promised and under-delivered, sometimes catastrophically.

Just like social media has facilitated the sharing of fake news, social platforms have offered sturdy platforms to flimsy entities in many areas of public life.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be collecting stories of inspiration and, often, devastation as we zoom in on the people and sometimes rootless brands and organizations who have taken advantage of social’s ability to make your idea look way more substantial than it actually is.

In some cases social media is the tool that launches under-funded businesses that deserve a shot and go on to thrive. In others, things go badly, badly wrong.

We’re starting with events, and none of them are going to end well.

All that glitters ain’t gold

Given the amount of promo videos I saw while at school that unashamedly inflated the amount of fun I’d have at various club nights and parties, you’d think I’d have learned not to believe in footage that purports to represent and event that hasn’t yet happened. But I’m not the only one to fall for appealing social promotions that promise you a good time at events, but end up producing contrasting images of expectation with reality.

Both on a local and country-wide scale, epic social media promotions are used by amateurs to sell tickets to events that are poorly planned and bound for failure.

In this blog post, you’ll find three examples of events that looked incredible on the surface but became beacons of schadenfreude when the events rolled around.

Let’s start with the big one.

The granddaddy of festival fails: The Fyre Festival

We’ll get the obvious one out of the way first.

The Fyre Festival, as you probably well know, was the definition of a shitshow. Our own analysis of the festival at the time was peppered with quotes from William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.


Let’s start at the beginning.

The Fyre Festival team pitched the event as a luxurious trip to the Bahamas where the finest food would complement the finest musical entertainment, and where visitors would relax in the finest festival accommodation you can imagine.

Influencers jumped aboard the doomed ship Fyre Festival, promoting the event to their millions of followers.

As you may have heard, the opposite of all those fine things were delivered.

Festival-goers turned up and subsequently became trapped on the island with little water and inadequate lighting. The accommodation wasn’t ready, and the offerings that were photographed appeared to be disaster relief tents. Cheese sandwiches that would be disappointing in a school cafeteria, let alone at a luxury getaway, were served and became unlikely mascots for a Fyre Festival that was going down in flames on the very social media patterns that it had used to promote the event in the first place.

The event trended and at one point generated 20k mentions in an hour, but this probably was not the kind of hype the organizers were hoping for.

Brandwatch image

Alongside a “beyond parody” leaked pitch deck from the event, Nick Bilton wrote in Vanity Fair:

“The best part of this entire weekend was that there isn’t an Instagram filter (yet) that can make disaster-relief tents and sliced bread and cheese on a Styrofoam plate look luxurious.”

What can we learn from the Fyre Festival?

I’d say in many ways the festival created a milestone in the timeline of vacuous celebrity endorsements that might signal the beginning of a change in direction for influencer marketing.

Other than them all feeling really bad, it doesn’t seem like any of the influencers faced much retribution for endorsing an event that turned to chaos. They may have struck a blow to the trustworthiness of celebrity influencers with enormous followings. More recently, we’ve seen an increase in interest around micro-influencers who have smaller, more specialized followings that may help them appear more trustworthy than celebs who rake in thousands (if not millions) of dollars for their backing.


A cheese festival with no cheese

This failed festival is particularly resonant for me because I was there.

The day was hot and tempers were fraying as stalls at a cheese festival in Brighton began hanging up “sold out” signs while lines of people stood queuing both for the food within the festival site, as well as to gain entry.

I observed the long lines, the inadequate seating areas, the grumpy faces of cheese deprived visitors and the despairing hands-on-hips and heads-in-hands of the festival employees.

Word got out fast that this cheese festival was turning to chaos. Even acclaimed food critic Jay Rayner got involved.

A cheese festival that ran out of cheese was a joke in itself, but the vast array of cheeses that were thought to be on offer at the festival also turned into a pun making competition.

Watch this news reader say “should have done cheddar” with a straight face.

The local press had a field day and someone even wrote this pun and expletive filled song about the festival called “Where’s the Camembert” to the tune of “Living on a Prayer”.

This is not how you want your event to be remembered.

And a shambolic pizza festival

Finally is one of my favorite failed festivals and it bears a lot of resemblance to the cheese one mentioned above.

The Notting Hill Pizza Festival, London, in May 2018 hit the national headlines because, you guessed it, they ran out of pizza.

But there’s a special element to this festival.

Instead of grovelling for forgiveness for the failed festival, the organizers went bold and blamed the customers being greedy for the shortages of pizza.

The BBC reported that the organizer said, ” it was unfortunate that the queues grew due to some overzealous appetites, preventing others to be able to enjoy the food.”


They blamed people for eating pizza at a pizza festival, resulting in them running out of pizza.

Putting out an inadequate spread of food at a food festival is one thing, but blaming your customers for eating it is another.

What can we learn from this?

I don’t know what it is about the above mentioned festivals that fascinates me and, apparently, the press so much. It kind of reminds me of watching The Apprentice on the week where they’re ordered to sell food to the general public and they end up misjudging the ingredients, standing at an empty stall and making a humiliating loss. Entertainment aside, people are getting ripped off by events that are promoted as something special and deliver something disappointing.

Here are three take aways I’ve noted from this:

1. Cancel early

If you can see your event is heading for disaster, for the love of all that is good do not let people show up to watch the catastrophe unfold.

If you cancel a week in advance and offer a refund or reschedule then that’s fine. And I can forgive Adele for cancelling her show at Wembley Stadium due to illness a day or two in advance. Fine. But if I’d showed up to see Adele and instead found a crumbling stadium with a rubbish imitation act I’d be pissed and I’d want my money back then and there. Knowing your event is going to be an absolute dumpster fyre and still letting people show up is going to get your event into blog posts like this.

In other words, “Lets just do it and be legends” is not a motto you should stick to when planning an event.

2. People are getting wise to vacuous promotion

Celebrity endorsement helped sell tickets to the Fyre Festival, but Millennials are getting wise to blatant advertisements and more subtle ones from celebrity icons.

If the Fyre Festival ever wants to run again they’re going to have to show they’re ready and not just rely on glitzy Insta pics.

3. Know how to apologize

Here are a few tips for apologizing when you screw up:

1. Don’t blame the person who came out worse when the problem was your fault.

2. Don’t say you’re taking responsibility but it wasn’t your fault.

3. Be sincere, be timely, be helpful. Acknowledge people’s concerns and show them what you’re going to do to fix things.


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