Three days from now, 40,000+ people will leave their homes, families, and rational identities behind to join a city of their own making in which all normal societal rules are cast aside: Burning Man. And despite what sounds like a good idea the first time you hear it, I’ve come to dread even the idea that other people are going, let alone myself.

Sure, I like partying naked just as much as the next girl, but not while all around me middle-aged men wearing only tutus ride bikes in sweaty, drug-induced delirium. Call me old fashioned, but nothing about that, combined with metal puppetry and flames, doesn’t resemble hell for me.

That said, as a brand, Burning Man deserves a nod. With an annual budget of over $10 million, a swanky San Francisco office and staff to match, Black Rock City LLC’s Burning Man Festival is thriving. This year, tickets started at $210 but were getting scalped for up to $5000, so for those of you still nursing the dream that Burning Man is anything but a business, I urge you to reconsider. In fact it’s more than a business, it’s a money-making machine- even for those unaffiliated.

Any recent perusal of Craigslist will show you just how lucrative the Burner brand has become:

  • Aug 23 – Leather chaps – perfect for burning man! – $220 (west portal)
  • Aug 22 – Life Size Pepsi Blockbuster Special Edition Yoda Statue – $700
  • Aug 22 – HOT Burning Man Costume Clothing Latex Paint Fur Coat Etc.
  • Aug 22 – powerizer stilts – $250 (santa cruz)
  • Aug 22 – Need a playa bike? Women’s Cruiser Bicycle – $30 (san rafael)

Burning Man! Buy this shit I have at my house! Brilliant. A brand perpetuated by the people themselves, and built around the one thing no other brand wants anything to do with: all the crap we have lying around.

Their strategy for insidious take-over? Don’t be a brand. Promise nothing. Provide the minimum. Let the people control the experience and the consequences. And then sit back and reap the benefits.

Burning Man is successful simply because of its willingness to relinquish control to its participants. Where most brands offer a handful of options, Burning Man is totally nonprescriptive. They do not force their faithful subjects in any one direction but instead let them choose their own destiny, in essence creating a following more loyal than any customer base- true believers. The fluid nature of the Burning Man brand has not only stayed open enough to successfully include everyone, their hands-off approach has created the most powerful kind of business: anti-business.

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