Fyre Festival Debacle Shows the Difference between Marketing and Branding

The Fyre Festival has become the train wreck you can’t ignore. The event organizers, rapper Ja Rule and entrepreneur Billy McFarland, promised attendees “two unforgettable weekends of mystery and music” with acts such as Blink-182 and Major Lazer appearing on a private island in the Exumas April 28-30 and then May 5-7. But by early morning April 28, the event was trending on Twitter as “the luxury party that turned into the Hunger Games,” with attendees reporting massive disorganization, inadequate housing, food shortages, and unbelievable chaos. The Fyre Festival is now scrambling to evacuate stranded attendees after canceling the event.

Here we have a painful reminder of the difference between marketing and branding. When synchronized well, marketing creates a promise, and the brand delivers on that promise through an experience. The Fyre Festival certainly created quite a promise. The festival marketed itself as an exclusive event “for those with uncompromising taste and a burning desire for adventure” with tickets reportedly costing as much as $12,000 and some VIP packages costing as much as $250,000. Attendees were promised luxury cabanas, sumptuous meals, private island parties, cool music, and generally the most decadent experience money could buy. “Set against the surreal island backdrop of the Exumas where ordinary rules don’t apply, Fyre ignites the best in music, cuisine, innovation and hospitality,” according to the event’s Facebook page. To build awareness, the festival relied on high-profile influencers, including Victoria’s Secret models, to post teaser content on their Instagram accounts. And teaser videos such as this one certainly looked appealing enough to those with enough cash:

But it quickly became apparent that the experience was not living up to the advertising, as the first attendees to arrive complained of spartan living conditions in disaster relief tents. Many took to social media to report what was going on:

As reported in Variety, “According to reports from would-be concertgoers, the site is more like a hurricane disaster staging area, with incomplete tents and boxed lunches instead of luxury accommodations and celebrity chef-prepared meals.” Meanwhile, Blink-182 canceled its appearance. Within hours, the organizers abandoned any hope of putting on the event and turned their focus to evacuating stranded travelers.

Now, if you’ve been to enough music festivals, you expect to pay for a bit of discomfort. Enduring crowds and inclement weather is just part of the deal when a festival promises you access to cool music. In fact, enduring some discomfort is sort of a badge of honor — the price you pay to say you were there when Kendrick Lamar tore up the stage. But the Fyre Festival promised an elite experience. And as Brian Solis has argued passionately, your brand is all about the experience.

Your brand is also all about delivering the experience you promise. A promise creates an expectation. You can proclaim your marketing a massive success when your promise of private cabanas on a luxury retreat results in concert goers willing to fork over thousands of dollars to spend their weekends with you. But when the experience fails to deliver on a promise, you fail to meet expectations, and your brand dies a quick death.

The rapidly unfolding disaster is also an embarrassment for Ja Rule. How much damage to his personal brand results remains to be seen, but his Fyre Media company, founded in 2015, now faces a crisis of epic proportions. United Airlines may have dragged a passenger kicking and screaming off an airplane. But when you create huge buzz by relying on supermodels and influencers to hype an event and then anger an island crawling with affluent millennials with access to social media, you’ve created a whole new level of pain.

Will Fyre Media now show us how to recover from a brand disaster? Stay tuned.

Why Uber Remains Disruptive and Dangerous

Uber is the Kanye West of Silicon Valley: bold and brilliant. Toxic and troubled. Disruptive and dangerous.

Uber’s willingness to play dirty and its dysfunctional culture are well documented, most recently in a New York Times piece, “Uber’s CEO Plays with Fire” that laid bare the controversial management style of CEO Travis Kalanick, including his “pattern of risk-taking that has at times put his ride-hailing company on the brink of implosion.” The company’s many scandals have given rise to the #DeleteUber movement, which has been an economic boon to rival Lyft.

And yet Uber remains as bold and disruptive as ever, as two recent news developments show.

On April 25, Uber announced that it will launch a network of flying taxis in Dallas and Dubai by 2020. The news places Uber front and center among the companies trying to define a market for electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (VTOLs), also known as flying cars (to the chagrin of purists). So-called flying cars could change the way people travel and the way transportation companies, delivery services, and even urgent care/on-demand health services operate, especially in urban markets hampered by congestion. Other prominent players trying to launch VTOLs include Airbus and  Kitty Hawk, a company backed by Google cofounder Larry Page, which released a demonstration video of a prototype on April 24.

The development and rollout of VTOLs faces some major hurdles ranging from regulatory barriers to constraints in battery life for the craft themselves. But if Uber has taught us anything, its the company’s ability to disrupt. This is the company that ushered in the era of the on-demand economy and disrupted the transportation and delivery industries. It’s also a business that knows how to scale an idea. As Alex Davies of WIRED reported, the company has formed partnerships with companies that are developing VTOLs as well as relationships with the businesses necessary to build out a flying car infrastructure. As he wrote:

And here’s the crazy part: Uber could make it happen. “I think 2020 is realistic for a vehicle that is not replacing an airplane but replacing a car,” says Richard Pat Anderson, director of the Flight Research Center at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. A purely electric aircraft might remain elusive, but a serial hybrid setup—where the aircraft carries a fuel-burning turbine to keep the juice flowing, much like the Chevrolet Volt—could work.

Meanwhile, as flying driving cars and Uber’s scandals were making headlines, McDonald’s announced that the fast-food giant has teamed with Uber to deliver McDonald’s to your door. As McDonald’s pointed out, nearly 75 percent of the population in its five largest markets live within three miles of a McDonald’s, and McDonald’s has been testing the Uber delivery service since December (through UberEATS, Uber’s food delivery unit).

As Peter Frost of Crain’s Chicago Business reported, “Delivery is a natural sales channel for McDonald’s to pursue since much of its food already is consumed outside its restaurants. Some 70 percent of McDonald’s U.S. business goes through the drive-thru, and in urban areas, far more consumers take its food to-go versus eating inside.”

The McDonald’s relationship is an example of how Uber can partner with brands that have the muscle and reach to help Uber deliver on its vision, in this case, services that cater to the on-demand consumer. Uber does the same with hospitals to deliver on-demand healthcare as well.

Uber doesn’t need to play nice to be disruptive and dangerous. Uber does not even have to be a long-term success. Ideas are the fuel of disruption, and Uber knows how to scale an idea even as the company’s brand implodes.

Note: check out Uber’s 2016 white paper on VTOLs here.

Why AI Is the Future of Music

The music industry finally has some reason to celebrate, thanks to artificial intelligence.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) recently announced that music revenues in 2016 grew 11.4 percent to $7.7 billion — the highest year-over-year growth rate since 1998. Although the industry is only half the size it was in 1999, double-digit growth is encouraging after years of either declines or flat results. Why the growth? According to the RIAA, the answer is simple: streaming is taking hold. And streaming services — especially Spotify — are lapping the field with AI.

As the RIAA noted, the biggest contributor to growth was a doubling of revenues from paid streaming services such as Apple Music, Spotify, and Pandora. In fact, for the first time ever, streaming music platforms generated the majority of the U.S. music industry’s revenues.

Younger streaming platforms such as Tidal are still too new to contribute significantly to the $3.9 billion that streaming services generated in 2016. Rather, the established streaming leaders, especially Spotify, are hitting their strides by offering better products fueled by AI.

Pandora and the Power of Personalization

Streaming services such as Pandora and Spotify have always created customers by personalizing their vast inventories of music. If you stream music, you already know how well Pandora and Spotify create engagement by offering you customized listening choices based on your personal tastes. I still remember how exciting it was when I first started using Pandora years ago and created my own Pandora radio stations based on names of artists or songs that appealed to me. If I wanted to create a station based on my love of Massive Attack, I could do so. If I wanted to create a station of music inspired by the Cure song “All Cats Are Grey,” I could do so. And Pandora refined my stations even further when I gave a thumbs up or thumbs down to songs that Pandora suggested to me based on my listening tastes.

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