It’s ironic that an event centered around “radical self-expression and anti-consumerism” is actually a very large and successful brand. In fact, in its 22nd year, Burning Man has built the kind of loyalist consumer base that could rival any iPhone upgrade launch.
Now before all you Black Rock true believers start beating us with virtual hookah pipes, this commentary is not intended to disparage the sanctity of “the burn.” If you want to go into the desert, build a city, make art, bike naked, trade bracelets, get baked and commune with the Lizard King, that’s cool. (And please send pictures.)
Meanwhile, let’s consider the properties of a successful brand. A brand can be a product, service, a person, or in this case, an event. When the brand consistently delivers on its unique promise, an emotional connection is formed with the consumer. The consumer identifies with attributes of the brand that reflect aspects of himself.
You see where we’re going here. Bud = mainstream, Americana, sports. Burning Man = counterculture, nonconformity, ‘shrooms. Told you it was ironic.
While Burning Man has become a business out of self-sustaining necessity, make no mistake, it’s a business. Black Rock City LLC, the organizing entity behind the festival, supports a full-time paid staff, has an office in San Fran and handles an annual budget of over $10 million. But that should be obvious to anyone not on a permanent acid trip. Even an anti-establishment experiment has to pay government land use fees.
“Hey, doesn’t Burning Man eschew all forms of marketing by its very being,” you ask? Guess it depends on what you call marketing but if you count web, print design, PR, blogs, direct mail and nontraditional, then um, no. Not to mention Word of Mouth. We’re talking two decades of burners spreading the “it changed my life” gospel.
Currently, there’s 287,346 related images on Flickr.
And that’s where Burning Man achieves true uber brand status. Come August 25th, over 48,000 brand advocates will once again shell out several hundred bucks for the unique experience of camping around a flaming… logo.
Yeah, that’s right, we said it. That big man-shaped structure towering over the playa is a logo.
Just check the trademark.