What we can learn from a world without brands
Imagine for a second a world without brands. Where marketing is outlawed and instead of being based on money, the economy operates on a system of gifting.
Rachel Moore doesn’t have to imagine such a place because she’s actually been there. Welcome to Burning Man, the week-long festival held in the Nevada desert which has been running for more than 30 years. Moore attended her first Burning Man in 2008 and says the festival has much to teach brands and marketers.
Based on a set of 10 principles – radical inclusion, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, gifting, decommodification, participation, immediacy, and leave no trace – in 2019, the event was attended by more than 80,000 people
"Back when I first went, Burning Man wasn’t yet part of popular culture. It was counter-culture. Now it’s a global movement and seen by many as the most fun party in the world. But it's not just a party. It changes you. It transformers the way people look at humanity and life and shifts our perspective of how we can show up in the world,” says Moore.
Working as an experiential marketer, Moore’s work was inspired by the festival famous for its epic art installations and ‘mutant vehicles’, cars that have been kitted out specifically for the event. She recalls one experience on board a truck converted into a pirate ship that saw her “sail off into the sunset with pirates from Romania” to a part of the camp where a live samba band entertained festival-goers.
"I would get so inspired and get so many ideas and creative expressions I would then apply to my work,” she says.
Beyond events, the festival has plenty of lessons for brands, specifically around fostering a sense of collaboration with their desired audiences.
Much like in the Nevada desert, the mindset for marketers, in this new decade and beyond, "has to be about collaboration, from a global perspective.” Moore says: "Marketers need to think about how they are engaging with their community, to know what they really want and need. All over the world, people are seeking inspirational leadership and brands want to be seen as leaders, so I believe there's an immense opportunity for brands to create powerful and positive impact.”
Moore believes this mindset calls on innovation as marketers look to inspire people to do more for the world around them rather than selling the promise of life being better once people have purchased a particular product or service.
And as more brands look to align to a higher purpose than simply making money, Burning Man offers a template for how to do that via the gifting economy the festival runs on. Little money changes hands at the festival with only essentials such as ice sold on-site. Instead, patrons “gift” everything from showers to massages and food.
"The gifting economy is by far one of the greatest principles and it’s the reason I kept going back year after year. Seeing the effort humans have gone to creating things to share restored my faith in humanity,” says Moore.
Moore attended the festival 10 years in a row and founded Camp Bang Bang, one of the longest-running Australian theme camps at the event.
Burning Man also has a lesson for us in managing brands as they grow. When the festival first began in 1986, just 35 people attended. The numbers have steadily increased forcing organisers to cap the population at the event.
While the early years of Burning Man attracted an audience that aligned easily with the 10 principles of the event, this newfound popularity has led to an influx of people who want the Burning Man experience with all the creature comforts from home. Known as ‘plug and play’ camps, earlier this year the organisers banned one such group believed to be charging up to $100,000 for a two-bedroom unit with a bathroom and air conditioning. The camp was banned for failing to comply with the tenet of environmental protection with a host of other camps receiving warnings about their conduct.
Moore has since bought the Burning Man experience home to Australia as part of Rainbow Tribe, an organisation that hosts alcohol-free dance parties and conscious events. At the heart of this is the creation of community. Moore says, “Burning Man was the first time I felt part of an inspired community. In the western world, people are lonely. We need to connect, feel like we belong, that we’re part of something.”
This too is a space brands can play in and Moore encourages marketers to explore fostering community. She is also keen for marketers to adopt the Burning Man principle of ‘leave no trace’.
“More and more, people want to support brands have a holistic consideration, brands that have a broader view of where the planet is heading rather than just putting their head in the sand,” she says.
Rachel Moore will be speaking at the ADMA Global Forum in March. Find out more and purchase your tickets here.