Fyre Festival was a hot mess. But it managed to break open the marketing black box and let us peer into the levers pulled behind the scenes that get people, and more importantly consumers, hyped.

Are Celebrities the New Marketing Secret Weapon?

Are Celebrities and New Marketing Secret Weapon

I want to take a second to talk about the “influencers” from Fyre Festival. Prior to Fyre Festival, a number of high-profile models were invited to give feedback about the upcoming festival on their social media channels in exchange for perks like flights and accommodation. The likes of Bella Hadid posted pictures on a white-sand beach with model pals living the life of luxury, implying the same experience would be had by festival-goers. Bella has 12.5 million followers.

According to recent media reports, trading flights and tickets for “deceptive promotional posts” is a violation of trade law because they did not disclose they were actually in a promotional relationship with the brand. Although this might be the premise for some legal troubles down the line, estimates suggest that the “Fyre Starters” posted promotions reaching over 300 million people in 24 hours.

What I want to know is: why were these social media influencers so effective in the first place? How have they reached a position to become the new marketing secret weapon?

Taking a look at our societal interest in celebrities, some from the psychology discipline argue that we look to celebrities to understand what makes the “great great” in our society and our own search for status and rewards. (Please note I am not making any comment on if these celebrities are actually great or not… I’m not exactly clear on why Kim Kardashian is so famous).

Emulation of celebrity qualities is a logical connection to making us great too. These are people who have succeeded in our society and we are studying how to reach similar success. Furthermore, knowing and talking about celebrities as social objects unites us with likeminded peers, who are equally aware and thirsty to emulate the same symbols and styles as the people we collectively idolize.

It’s about validation and narcissism

If I wear Hot Lips, and my friends recognize it, that leads to a serious feeling of validation. It’s no wonder people spend so much time watching celebrities and trying to emulate them; celebrity worship syndrome is an obsessive-addictive disorder when someone becomes overly interested in the lives of a celebrity.

Social media introduces an interesting dynamic as it increases our proximity to our favourite celebrities. We develop an emotional proximity to these otherwise strangers. Alternatively, social media allows mere mortals to turn our own lives into broadcasts, turning our friends into fans and followers. We share details of our lives with our friends just like the celebrities, creating an illusion of reality and friendship. According to Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, these are all symptoms of human narcissism, which has long been on the rise. He argues that we are now more “self-obsessed, materialistic, entitled, fame-hungry, and egotistical than ever before”.

So when an opportunity comes along, via your friend Bella Hadid, not only to attend the same luxurious festival, but to party right alongside her and her pals, it’s tempting.

Another theme at play is exclusivity.

Celebrities occupy this exclusive realm of society, wearing the most expensive clothes, flying on private jets, vacationing at exclusive resorts. For many, exclusivity comes down to money. We can’t be exactly like them because we don’t have the same financial privileges. This plays into another bias in consumer psychology where people assume that price is representative of quality.

So when organizers are charging between $1,000-$12,000 a ticket ($125,000 for a luxury group package), that exorbitant price plays into our assumption that:

a) the event will be exclusive (with help from the celebrity social media endorsement), and
b) that the event will be high quality.

Maybe you’ll end up part of this exclusive group too once Kendall meets you and becomes your next bestie.

When you think about it, why would these celebrities be good endorsers of a festival? They don’t (generally) have skills in large-scale organization. The festival didn’t happen yet so they couldn’t attest to how it would turn out. They simply receive payment for their endorsement without feeling any financial repercussions for its demise (…yet).

There might be one positive consequence. Like any brand, the involvement of celebrities with negative press might tarnish their personal brand and ability to promote successfully.

The bottom line is that social media celebrities can only be a marketing secret weapon if we people remain unaware of how they’re being used. Perhaps this fiasco is a wakeup call to social media followers to think more critically about the things celebrities support. And a lot more critically when deciding to go to a festival.

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