by Alecia Wright

Admittedly, I am not a festival-goer. I do love a good concert, but something about a weeklong festival (let alone camping in the desert) does not exactly appeal to me as a consumer. However, my personal preferences do not make the unique operations of Burning Man any less fascinating.

What is Burning Man?
Burning Man is a music festival that takes place in Black Rock Desert, Nevada – a dusty plane that transforms into a community for the annual event. Since the festival’s inception in 1986, its popularity and attendance have grown every year. Latest figures show 66,000 attendees in 2014 and tickets go for $390 individually — which supports the running of the event.

Burning Man must be onto something, because past “burners” (participants) include founder Jeff Bezos and Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

What Makes the Festival Unique?
Hardly any advertising is done for the event, yet over 50,000 people attend. With a couple exceptions, nothing is for sale – rather, goods are exchanged as gifts.

Burning Man’s unique atmosphere and costumed participants have caused it to be called “Disneyland for adults” and “a mix of Moulin Rouge with Mad Max.”

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So, what can marketers learn from this truly one-of-a-kind event, in which attendees come back year after year? This is the same premise behind marketing: to create loyal consumers to a brand.

Marketing Lessons from Burning Man

1. Make Customers Feel Valued
Burning Man organizers truly understand their customers and specifically organize events that they’d enjoy: art and performances, theme camp and village activities, fire performances, and drummers.

*Marketing Lesson: Interact with your customers to build relationships and get their feedback for your product/service to improve. After all, happy customers are likely to become loyal, repeat customers who recommend your product/service to others.

2. Back-to-Basics Promotion
Burning Man nurtures a grassroots and primitive atmosphere, encouraging conversation time and limited modern technology. Most attendees ride bicycles, and those with “mutant vehicles” (decorated cars) must be licensed.

*Marketing Lesson: Word of mouth is the original and preferred method of recommending products and services.

3. Gift Economy = Nothing is for Sale + Culture of Giving
What is a gift economy? “A gift economy is one in which services or goods are given without an agreement as to a suitable payment or trade to be made in return. Instead of monetary gain, gift economies often rely on intangible rewards like a sense of contribution, community, honor or prestige.” In this way, people offer meaningful gifts to one another.

*Marketing Lesson: Giving or obtaining goods retrogrades back to the initial purpose of consumerism: to attain what we need or is meaningful. Marketers can emphasize the need their product/service meets, or how it can be thoughtful as a gift.


4. Connecting
Burning Man attendees genuinely take the time to get to know each other – most times perfect strangers. However, by the end of the event, there is a tremendous sense of community.

*Marketing Lesson: Develop a meaningful community behind your brand. For example, we all know Lululemon lovers who have created a culture around the brand and are passionate about the healthy lifestyle it promotes. Other brand cultures include the innovative culture of Apple, the fun-loving environment of Zappos, and the dedicated experience of Nike.

5. Creativity and Passion
Everyone involved in the event — from organizers to art designers to participants — is undoubtedly passionate. Organizers bring themes to life, designers create stunning architectural designs, and participants dress up in costumes.

See 50 stunning examples of design at Burning Man here.

*Marketing Lesson: Marketers must be dynamic and imaginative. However, try to remember that not all consumers “fit all.” People want to be different and stand out, so give them a product that they can value.

A Question
When my Marketing Research professor posed the question to the class “Why are marketing professionals fascinated by this festival in particular?” I was stumped. “Because they’re unconventional consumers?” I mused.

While my answer may be true, it was not exactly the answer my professor was looking for.

An Answer

Burning Man attendees are known as the French Consumer. What is a “French Consumer?” According to my marketing research professor, French consumers foresee trends before they become popular — an ideal target for a marketer.


In all likelihood, my professor is right. However, I do agree that sometimes the best way to study consumerism is to focus on unconventional groups’ tastes and preferences because after a while, repeatedly studying Millennials can be boring. Every type of consumer has fascinating insights to uncover and market to.