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By Patrick Cavanaugh

Burn Your Marketing; Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Man

It may be ironic, the amount of money spent affording travel, admission and survival when attending the week-long, strictly non-consumerist Burning Man arts festival, and in turn the inherent dissonance that emerges when looking at the events of Black Rock City through the eyes and brain of a marketer…

For those who retch at the very imagining of that perspective, well, fuck your burn.

…But alas, tis true, marketing at it’s essence is purposeful human-to-human communication, even when the $$$ are taken out of the equation. And there were 65,000 burners doing a whole lot of talking during my week amidst the dust. Burning Man 2011 Black Rock City forms and disappears in the months surrounding the annual Burning Man festival. An assemblage of camp sites, some absolutely enormous with state-of-the-art RV campers, air conditioned bathrooms, etc., but mostly a mess of shade structures, tents/yurts and geodesic domes, the city ABOUNDS with a community of people devoted to self-expression and the creative arts. 2014-BRC-fin-lg Like any city, there are a variety of districts and neighborhoods amongst the grid of streets, defined by affiliation, affectation or simple proximity to various landmarks. (Think giant purple phallus plaza and the bank of port-o-potties, not the Eiffel Tower or Times Square) A diverse community, interspersed are Theme Camps full of either burner vets or turnkey tourists. Villages dedicated to Art, Design, Politics or Irish Folk Music. And the music camps. Many of these camps hold workshops, schedule events and frankly, party hard. To make the rest of the festival aware, they advertise these activities in three main ways:

  • Crowdfunding campaigns prior to festival kickoff
  • Writeups in the “official” Burning Man Guide
  • Word-of-mouth / Curb appeal / Hollering through a mega-phone

Whether a seminar for guiding sexual chakras, an acro-yoga tutorial, open bar or bath-house, both paying and participating requires, at its core, some level of marketing. But make no mistake, there is no expectation of entry payment/barter/whatever, these are all gifts to the community. The daytime rave at Opulent Temple is an offering to Burning Man, as too are the yoga leaders, hot dog vendors and all random wonderful happenings in between. So wait, what’s the takeaway here? Rather than wax eloquent over my memories of a beautiful event, let’s break this down to your basic listicle of key points:

The 10 Principles

Crafted not as a dictate of how people should be and act, but as a reflection of the community’s ethos and culture as it had organically developed since the event’s inception, the Principles may serve as a foundational guide to approach any campaign. Radical inclusion – anyone can be part of the conversation. Civic responsibility – ethics are yes, still part of business. Communal effort – we’re all in this together, in the end, so act accordingly.

Create / Celebrate Moments

The best parts of any experience are the ones you (hope to) remember forever. There are numerous ways to create these special moments, whether its giant white flowers in the desert or a perfectly executed piece of experiential marketing. Get it right and they’ll love you while sharing it with the world.

Be Prepared

Say what you will about its all just a big rave, surviving a week in the desert is no joke–it is absolutely vital you know what you are getting into and provide adequate supplies. So too should marketers take the time to do the research, complete discovery and define the plan before launching a campaign. Don’t be the dude who didn’t realize Leave No Trace means yes, you have to haul out your trash even if you don’t have a truck, or the marketer who spends all the budget on production without leaving anything for the media buy. Whoops.

By Patrick Cavanaugh