insights

The Man Who Stopped the Internet with a Single Color

If you’ve watched either of the recent Hulu or Netflix documentaries about Fyre Festival (and who hasn’t by now?) then you understand what a colossal failure the 2017 event was. Organizers promised an exclusive, celeb-worthy music festival on the white-sand beaches of the Bahamas, replete with luxurious accommodations and gourmet cuisine. Instead, thanks to criminally poor planning and financial mismanagement, it’s remembered as a comedy of errors: Posh concertgoers stranded on an island with little to eat, soggy disaster-relief tents for lodging, and—perhaps worst of all—no cell service.

But as spectacularly awful as the affair ended up, there’s one thing it did really, really well—something that we as marketers can actually learn from. Perhaps better than any other online campaign before or since, Fyre Festival harnessed the power of color to make a statement without saying a word. 

The whole debacle began with an idea inspired in its simplicity, dubbed the Orange Tile Campaign. Organizers deployed a fleet of celebrities, artists and social media influencers—mostly of the supermodel/socialite set—to simultaneously post the same bright orange, featureless block of color to their Instagram accounts, along with a link to fyrefestival.com. There one could find a drool-worthy promotional video featuring many of those same (scantily clad) supermodels frolicking in the Bahamian sun and begging viewers to join them. The internet went wild, and before long droves of millennials were spending thousands of dollars per ticket for the privilege of taking part.

Though there’s been plenty of finger-pointing in the aftermath of Fyre Festival, the guy behind the orange tiles, graphic designer and social media consultant Oren Aks, has proudly raised his hand to take ownership of the campaign.

“The idea was to allow the influencers to post something easy and universal,” Aks told digital magazine designboom. “It works because the orange tile is confusing. If you follow a lot of models, you would have to go through a dozen of the same post and therefore HAVE to investigate. You need to get in on the secret that everyone else on the internet knows about already, except you.”

In a nutshell: Aks tapped our eternal fountain of FOMO with one stripped-down shade of orange. But why that color? Why not the blue-green of island waters, or bright yellow sunshine?

“My inspiration came from UPS trucks and how a UPS truck, brown, kind of stands out in a downtown setting because nothing around it is that solid of a color,” Aks says in this video describing his design thought process. “Because everything is life-colored on Instagram, a neon stood out. It was a combination of the two, and I think it worked out well.”

His last point is debatable: ‘It worked out well’ is not the phrase most would use to describe any aspect of the Fyre Festival ordeal. But, strictly from a marketing standpoint, Aks isn’t wrong. With clever placement of an extremely simple, eye-catching design, he demonstrated how powerfully color can grab our attention—and set off a social media firestorm in the process. And that’s something we all can warm to.

Illustrations by Eric Nyffeler