AvaBurn – the Avantgarde Burning Man Experience

Two Avantgarde creatives attended Burning Man 2016 to get inspiration for their work. They returned with a lot of insights for experiential marketing.

What is the best way to get inspired when year after year you have to come up with consumer activation ideas for summer festivals? You have to go and join the most extreme festival community out there: Burning Man  in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. And that’s exactly what two members of our creative team in Munich did: Alexis Mardapittas (creative director) and Stefanie Kling (senior creative) booked flights, rented the seemingly last RV available on the West Coast, and went to spend a week in one of the most inspiring places on earth. They returned with tons of pictures, videos, six key learnings, and a strange sparkle in their eyes.


Avantgarde at burning man



When people think of Burning Man, they think of drugs, parties, lineups and nakedness. And it is all of that, but it is way more. It’s the ultimate community. Black Rock City is a temporary metropolis dedicated to community, art, self-expression and self reliance. 70,000 visitors (the majority of whom are recurring burners) from all over the world join the Burning Man community and live up to the ten guiding principles. Since literally everything is covered in dust there is no discernible rich, no poor, no classes at all. 

Alexis and Steffi spent a week meeting people, getting involved in theme camps, trying out the various available mobility options, checked out the oftentimes staggering artwork, and, yes, partied a bit, too. Over time, one question kept coming back to their minds:


Avantgarde at burning man



They found out there are a number of things that are unique to it. Here’s what they learned from Burning Man, and what can inspire you to rethink your marketing in every aspect, from targeting to the actual messages you are trying to convey:

  1. It’s not a festival, it’s a city.
    Yes, you can have a huge rave in the desert. But there is a lot more to explore: From activities, workshops, performances to theme camps and art installations.
  2. It’s not “visitors”, it’s citizens.
    Festival attendees are usually passive recipients of a curated experience. Burning Man is about participation and contribution; it’s a joint creation that everyone is responsible for. You are a citizen, and you participate.
  3. It’s not targeted, it’s open.
    Burning Man is actually an all-ages event: from kids to best agers. As long as you can handle the physical conditions, there’s no such thing as “too old.”
  4. It’s not property, it’s decommodification.
    Who you are and what you do in the “default world” doesn’t matter on the playa. There’s no bartering or exchanging of goods and services. There is a culture of no-strings-attached gifting which can take any form.
  5. It’s not a push, it’s a pull. 
    There’s a lot of music and a lot of art, but the festival doesn’t organize any of it. Instead, Burning Man provides space and support for participants to entertain other participants for their pleasure.
  6. It’s not co-creation, it’s creation.
    Burning Man provides an environment for participants to do whatever they want, from art and activities to exploring their boundaries and trying new things.

Burning Man is an annual gathering that takes place at Black Rock City—a temporary community erected in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. The next Burning Man will take place from August 27 to September 4, 2017.

All photos: Alexis Mardapittas/Avantgarde