Decommodification Special Report

A blatant disregard of some Burning Man principles has recently been reported. That makes this a good time to look at the Principles and the lines we’ve drawn in the sand.

EDIT: This video is a re-upload with unnecessary corporate names omitted.

EDIT #2: I want to thank everyone for the thoughtful discussion in comments.
I realize now that I made some mistakes.
I was naive about some things, and ignorant of others.
I truly believe that the Playa experiences we created were well-aligned with the Principles. But I see now that acknowledgement of any brand, in any way, at any time, in relation to Burning Man – on or off Playa – is problematic.
Hopefully this conversation will help us move forward as a community.

**NOTE: I AM NOT AN OFFICIAL REPRESENTATIVE OF BURNING MAN. I am merely a Participant with a passion for the event, people, and principles of Burning Man. Half-baked ideas & views expressed aren’t necessarily those of the Burning Man organization.” **

About the author: John "Halcyon" Styn

Halcyon is a 17-year Burning Man participant and founder of Pink Heart camp. He is author of "Love more. Fear less." and producer of the Burning Man short film, "The Pink Path." He's won Webby awards for his over-the-top personal site & his "Love On Demand" video podcast He hosted the defunct web series "Fears. Regrets. Desires." and frequently speaks about Gratitude & Gifting. In 2010, Halcyon co-founded the San Diego based "1st Saturdays" homeless outreach program based on Burning Man Principles and the idea of "Service Without Sacrifice." You can find his digital home at

88 thoughts on “Decommodification Special Report

  • @Bob – I think that kind of thing happens quite a bit at Burning Man. Corporate funds and donations help out many large camps. Your scenario takes me back to the question of was I wrong to thank them publicly before & after the event?

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  • @JV -To clarify actions & intentions:
    An active vegan in my camp had a vision 4 years ago to give out ice cream on the playa and show people that you could enjoy a frozen treat without animal products. As long as we weren’t in people’s face about it, I thought it was a cool idea (I am not vegan). He contacted the ice cream company & some organic toppings companies and they responded favorably – without any conditions or requests.
    He originally got some funding for the truck from vegan groups who wanted to support the project. Then last year we got truck funds from an indiegogo campaign. During the truck campaign, I thanked the ice cream company by name. As I have admitted several times, I am definitely naive…but I don’t think I was roped into anything.
    If I never thanked them and nobody ever knew what brand it was, would that be okay?

    @JV – p.s. In reference to the ice cream company blog post to their fans. That is definitely pushing the line…but is it different than Infected Mushroom publicizing where they will be playing on the Playa to their fans?

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  • @Bob

    “How? From the Burning Man FAQ:

    Commerce and Concessions
    “The…distribution of commercial promotional items or materials is prohibited.””

    Lots of camps gift items that were donated to them by companies. As long as the gifting is done without mention of a brand name, I don’t see a problem. However, I missed the previous link to the Coconut Bliss blog post. That, I agree, is crossing the line.

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  • joyful is entirely correct, and I think comparing coconut bliss and krugs is like comparing fresh picked apples with rotting ones. Some key points that are relevant to my mind.

    Krug left a huge trace

    Krug violated the press rules

    Krug did not gift, they created a photo shoot that had their product present for consumtion

    Krug and T&C did these things in a premeditated manner and used deception to succeed.

    If you don’t think those differences matter then grab some krug

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  • As Captain Irony and I have repeatedly explained, when or if you thanked or mentioned Coconut Bliss is irrelevant. The salient point is your repeated participation in–and to some extent, your failure to acknowledge–their marketing campaign that breaks the rules of Burning Man.

    Look, I’m sure you gave Coconut Bliss ice cream in the spirit of Burning Man, and I’m sure you believe Coconut Bliss has nothing but good intentions, and I’m sure you believe Coconut Bliss only wants to give back to the community that gave them so much. However, you are failing to recognize the significant difference between what you believe about Coconut Bliss, and the less-than-warm-and-fuzzy reality of their primary business objective: selling ice cream.

    Of course Coconut Bliss jumped at the chance to give ice cream samples to a quasi-famous internet celebrity willing to promote Coconut Bliss ice cream on several of his web pages, organize fundraisers for refrigerated trucks to take Coconut Bliss ice cream to a hot, dry desert, and give ice-cold Coconut Bliss ice cream to hot people who, upon learning Coconut Bliss ice cream is vegan, would surely ask, “This is delicious! Who makes it, and where can I buy it?” Coconut Bliss would have been foolish not to seize such an opportunity–it’s clever and cost-effective marketing to a specific and receptive target audience.

    Several of my friends work in and with advertising, marketing, and public-relations firms, and Burning Man is one of the most studied and sought-after arenas for marketing campaigns–stealth, viral, and otherwise. Not long ago, a friend of mine revealed his firm discussed with a somewhat-infamous petroleum corporation plans to rehabilitate its image and market itself by gifting water bottles made from 100% post-consumer waste to people at Burning Man who were labeled as, “receptive to a promotional giveaway which demonstrates our renewed commitment to preserving the environment of which they are passionate and concerned stewards.”

    I doubt you’d be okay with such a campaign, but you would have a hard time explaining why one giveaway is acceptable and the other is not, since both are given with the same marketing objectives. As Captain Irony noted, “‘feeling that my product brings people joy and in some small way improves the world,” is not the exclusive preserve of the vegan dessert set. People go to work at Proctor & Gamble every morning convinced that they’re making life a little easier for moms, for example.”

    The other issue is Burning Man’s response to the marketing campaigns that continue to infest the event. Sure, Burning Man has denounced the Krug campaign, but strongly-worded blog posts are not going to affect Krug financially and unless Burning Man has initiated litigation or organized an effective boycott, we’ve yet to hear why other companies would be deterred from attempting similar stunts. Ultimately, the public-relations fallout is likely to be minimal and the end result will be lots of web traffic, Facebook views, and publicity for Krug. In short, a marketing success, similar to the marketing success Coconut Bliss is currently enjoying.

    Both you and Burning Man ought to acknowledge these marketing campaigns, address them as such, and stop your participation in them. As I stated earlier, the proselytizing and cloying sycophancy about the sanctity of the anti-commodification and anti-commerce rules and principles while simultaneously giving tacit approval to ignore them is disingenuous, inane, and insulting.

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  • p.s. I don’t think you’re a bad guy. I’ve seen you on the web and the playa for nearly two decades and I know you, more than most, have adopted the Burning Man ethos as a life-mission. I also think you, like everyone else, have blind spots and can be naive when you fail to consider not everyone shares in the goodness you give so freely.

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  • The ice cream blog post is new to me. But as I think about it, is it really over the line?

    If you love Infected Mushroom, their blog tells you where they will be on Playa.
    if you love Coconut Bliss, their blog tells you where it will be on Playa.
    if you love Alex Grey, the ‘Who? What? Where?” guide tells you where he will be speaking on Playa.
    In the default world they all sell products and we are consumers. On the playa we all participate in Gifting.
    Corporations exist. If they want to participate in gifting, while following our rules, can we let them?

    i.e. If I buy chapstick and gift it to you it is okay, but if Chap stick gifts my camp 1000 tubes of chap stick without any branding on them and I give them away, it isn’t okay?

    I suppose you could argue that Infected mushroom & Alex Grey produce art, while the ice cream company does not.
    But one could also argue that attempting to convert people to eco-conscious vegan habits is a potentially world-changing artistic effort.

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  • To me, there are two very important things about the no vending policy:

    1. My wallet is useless, I never have to think about can I afford this thing or that thing. I have the things that I have, other people have theirs, and we have a good time sharing. Nor can I use money to get what I want. If someone has a trampoline, I must ask, “Cool trampoline, can I jump for a while?” Then we meet each other as human beings.

    2. I can let my guard down against advertising. I don’t have to worry about strings attached, promotional offers that will ultimately rope me into contracts, etc. When I was walking one day, a person handed me a sticker. I had not turned that part of my brain off yet and I instinctively thought it was some sort of promotional flyer that I didn’t want. I didn’t get it. I took it reluctantly, and I am pretty sure that I failed to thank him. Turns out it was a great little gift and is now stuck to my primary water bottle.

    There was a guy with a hot dog stand painted in crazy colors who gave me a hot dog Friday morning. I know I thanked him – at least by Friday I had “got it” at least as far as being able to accept a gift. Just for the sake of argument, suppose he runs an actual commercial hot dog stand – not a far fetched assertion considering that he knows how to get one out to the desert and run it properly. Should I recognize him on the street am I going to buy a hot dog from him? HELL YES! Would I buy one if I had not met him at a dance party in the deep playa? Doubtful.

    Gifting, and making immediate human relationships is simply good business, especially if you are one of those businesses that actually gives one shred of a crap about how their product improves the lives of others.

    The Esplanade is very big, and the things on it are very big, in many cases aided by or done by professional artists, craftsmen, and entertainers. I could be wrong, but I do not think that it would be possible to have something that really looked like the Esplanade in a decommercially-pure form, that is done by total amateur groups pooling their individual resources with no potential overlap between their gifts to the playa and their business interests in the default world. Such a purist event would be very interesting, but I don’t think that it would be the same thing as Burning Man in its modern form.

    So long as the ice cream maker is not daydreaming about their future sales the whole day, signing up people for promotional emails, branding the product in some way, or paying people to stand there and hand out ice cream, then that is fine. If they really want to meet interesting people, and have fun giving away ice cream because that is what they are good at, then fantastic. It is not something that anyone can really judge except by ones actions.

    The other side of the coin is (2) – helping the gift recipient maintain the state of mind that the free stuff really is just that: free stuff, which it almost never is in the default world. The presence of a brand name or logo associated with the gift – on or off playa – can potentially make it harder to receive. I think that it therefore improves the gift to be sensitive to this. Specifically, it would improve the relationship between said ice cream manufacturer and the community to be careful not to put up anything that could be interpreted as a commercial advertisement, even if that is not the spirit of the post. I am not saying that anything was intentionally done wrong, but burners are a very sensitive group of people in this regard, even if they are covered in dust, drunk, and swearing.

    I am also convinced that the reason that coffee is sold in center camp is to provide a nexus of cognitive dissonance that keeps us from getting too bent out of shape to have any fun.

    Finally, I must say that these are difficult questions, and this problem is much easier to manage with a bit of professional help. This whole situation could have been easily avoided by using Frogbird Industries’ BurnerGuard(TM) compliance monitoring and email alerts. I have taken the liberty of signing you up for the promotional email list so that you can get more information.

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  • ““Cool trampoline, can I jump for a while?” Then we meet each other as human beings.”

    i’ve been going to burning man since before it started, and i know something about people who bring trampolines – most of them are assholes. so when you think you’ve agreed that, yes – i’m now allowed to jump on the trampoline, what is going on behind the scenes is that they’re laughing at you.

    i’ve started a webpage to protest this type of treatment:

    please join me and we can start bringing the walls down together.


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  • @ Jungle Kitty

    Please explain why inappropriate jokes are any better than going on a mean-spirited, online, “trolling” tirade, using foul language and thinly veiled threats of violence and aggression?

    I think your reaction is worse than the cause.

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  • Rev. Dr. Shamus:
    Jungle Kitty’s rant is a 4Chan meme. I reported it, but it’s still there.

    Also, Jon Carroll has weighed in on the fiasco:

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  • Here’s my challenge to Halcyon.

    Consider this — product placement and grass-roots marketing is pervasive in the default world.

    Brand advocacy – where you reward or incentivize your best customers (with, say, free samples) to talk to their community on your behalf – is a form of marketing (done online it’s called “earned media” – arguably this thread is “earned media for Coconut Bliss”) I hope by this point we “get that”.

    For a luxury goods brand, photos of people consuming your product in exotic locations is an effective tool.

    For a product with a story to tell, igniting grass-roots conversations is probably worth more than any photo.

    I’m not sure a lot of people want to see a situation where a couple of times a day someone hands you a “gift” on the playa and it feels suspiciously like it came straight off of a palate “donated” by a manufacturer, happy to get their product into the hands of a desirable demographic.

    That’s a straight up perversion of the gift economy (which as we all know should remain the preserve of exchanging crappy plastic landfill items)

    And if pushing back on things that look and feel and taste and act like grass-roots viral marketing means that a few companies that you think are a natural fit for your camp’s agenda don’t get to spread their good intentions, well, so it goes.

    As you have noted, there are other festivals, and this kind of stuff maybe a better fit elsewhere.

    Frankly there are plenty of other camps engaging in advocacy at BM – solar energy, green living, whatever. In fact I saw a small vegan camp with an “ask a vegan” booth.

    That may or may not have been less effective y making the case for veganism than having people try vegan ice cream for themselves. (I’m guessing less)

    But you have to draw completely arbitrary lines somewhere, no? At Burning Man we draw them all the time. Let’s maybe not redraw them in such a way that any brand who wants their product distributed only has to find a camp happy to stage the give-away for them.

    Anyway, if enough people are under the impression that your camp is in the pocket of Big Ice Cream, well, the challenge is that you, or your vegan camp member, has to find a more creative way to surprise and delight people with the joys of veganism.

    At the risk of being a dick, there’s your gift from the playa … find a more creative way of doing your thing, rather than setting controls for the heart of commodification and excusing it with a “I know we did it with good intentions, so that makes it fine” or saying, “well, isn’t this just like some band telling people where they’ll be playing?” Get creative rather than seeing how close the pink and/or corporate toes can get to the line of commodification.

    Product give-aways I can get in Trader Joe’s, Safeway or CostCo any day of the week.

    To answer your thought about ChapStick — if you give me a generic unbranded ChapStick, fine, functional, whatever…. If there’s a *specific product benefit* that you, or your camp-mate, or the CEO of ChapStick, is hoping will change people’s perspectives on that product (be it dairy free ice-cream or hemp-sourced ChapStick or whatever…..), your “gift” is coming from an advocacy/agenda/product-positioning place. And it starts to become pretty indistinguishable from brand advocacy/grass-roots marketing.

    The problem with “Corporations exist. If they want to participate in gifting, while following our rules, can we let them?” is that corporations have growth, financial and customer acquisition goals that are virtually impossible to separate out from what most people think of as “gifting” in this context.

    Obviously, if Coconut Bliss wanted to support the cause of veganism by gifting/donating something *other than their own product in bulk*, they’re free to do so. But it doesn’t really work that way, does it?

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  • Captain Oh, the Irony! Says:
    >> “there’s your gift from the playa … find a more creative way of doing your thing, rather than setting controls for the heart of commodification and excusing it with a “I know we did it with good intentions, so that makes it fine” or saying, “well, isn’t this just like some band telling people where they’ll be playing?” Get creative rather than seeing how close the pink and/or corporate toes can get to the line of commodification.”


    Halcyon, if you wanted to be really creative and true to the spirit of Burning Man, you could make and bring your own ice cream.

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  • I still think there are some lines that are clear:
    -No marketing at Burning Man.
    -No using images/footage shot at Burning Man for commercial purposes.

    But no advocacy at Burning Man?

    Who is to say that every talk or body work session isn’t a form of advocacy? And what if those people are professionals? Must we assume their gifts are motivated by commercial interests simply because their gifts are commodified in the default world?

    If the advocacy feels like marketing, people will freak out. If it feels like a gift, the community will receive it, or decline it.

    I am pushing this point because I am holding on the hope that there is a way that the fuzzy aspects of this line will allow us to push our influence back into the default world.

    see: TED talk on “Giftism”

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  • I heard there might be this awesome vegan camp with a refrigerated truck teaching burners how to make their own homemade vegan ice cream . . .

    because, you know, then they could make their own, instead of buying it – thereby avoiding commercialism, consumerism, commodification, and container waste.

    Also, having an opportunity to step into a ice cold truck and make frozen deserts on the playa would be straight-up awesome.

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  • @SnicketySnack – That will be awesome! But wouldn’t they need to have extensive coconut fields at their disposal? If the camp had to buy the coconuts, that would get into consumerism, no? It certainly would get tricky if anyone donated the coconuts.

    I’m not sure I agree, but I think the ideal being suggested is: If you didn’t farm them yourself, don’t tell anyone the truth about where you got them (while at Burning Man or in the default world.)

    On a related note, Pink Heart will be harvesting our coconut fields in the next few weeks. If we have enough, we’ll try to bring more frozen vegan treats in 2012.

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  • Greetings yall! I’m glad this came up as I do believe this can be a slippery slope. I want to share with everyone how the Coconut Bliss gifting came to be.

    After studying quantum nutrition for years, I felt that my greatest gift to the Burning Man community 3 years ago would be to share yummy knowledge that raises awareness for compassion for animals, the environment, and the temple aka our bods. I contacted the Bliss folks and they said they would donate some and sell the rest at cost to us. I raised money from various groups and friends. Never did Coconut Bliss ask for any brand recognition or any type of mention on the Playa. In choosing to gift the ice cream, I instructed the team to mention that is was vegan and when people asked where it comes from, we would inform our ice cream visitors that our friends at Coconut Bliss supplied it.

    I enjoy organizing this huge sharing of vegan ice cream because this is one of the only ways I share my art. I feel artistic in doing this as it raises the vibration of each and every one of our Pink Heart camp members and those who become surprised! This year we’ll be combining it with a matchmaking game while people wait in line since my other gift is raising awareness for finding true loves. This whole event is purely part of our camp’s expression and our desire to take people back to childhood where we used to share blissful experiences and smiles over ice cream cones!

    I wish more people ate ice cream together on playgrounds, dusty or concrete by nature. Maybe more people would relax and find peace in their reflections and personal journeys. I know I do! And I know several Burners do too!

    Vitamin C aka Christian Hellmers

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  • The thing about coconuts us that they grow naturally, they are not a manufactured product; and you can get them from multiple sources and they are generally not branded. Maybe you have to peel off a sticker identifying the source, but then you are done and you just have a coconut. Bring that to the burn, and you do not have a commercially produced branded and marketed product that you are shoving in people’s faces. You just have a coconut.

    You even have a multitude of sources from which to obtain your coconuts, and can consider the environmental and ethical ramifications of the source you choose. But by the time it reaches the playa, the market ramifications of said coconut need not be apparent. All anyone has to confront is a coconut. And let’s face it, in life, coconuts happen. Cleverly branded vegan coconut ice cream, however, does not just happen. It is manufactured and promoted and sold for profit.

    Granted, most of us bring a number of branded products to the burn – we can’t all grow or make everything we need from scratch – it wouldn’t be efficient even if we could. This is where commerce steps in, helping us redistribute goods according to need – at least in theory.

    But with commerce, you get people seeking commercial advantage. Enter branding and advertising and marketing and yes, even viral mass disti union campaigns aimed at getting large numbers of culture makers (i.e. burners) to adopt and promote a certain brand of vegan coconut ice cream. This is a blatant attempt to impact commercial market activity. And this is what many of us come to the burn to get away from. If even just for a short while to be free of the constant bombardment of but this, try this, like this, tell your friends about this that constitutes current marketing efforts. So that we might have some space and time to think about what we really need and want in the world, and how to manifest that. It sounds like a brand of ice cream was the result of just such an experience of space an freedom to think without the warping pressures of brand advertising. Now that said ice cream is a default world branded product, you think it’s creators would have the decency and respect not to shove mass quantities of it down people’s throats on the playa, and would instead allow folks to have their own generative experiences.

    We are not perfect, and many of will bring and share packaged commercial items – for convince, it is all but inevitable. Most of us will not, however, be distributing large quantities of said products in a thinly. Ruled effort to indoctrinate our fellow burners in the hopes of creating brand-imprinted future consumers.

    I believe that you genuinely believe in the virtues of veganism and the wonder that is vegan ice cream. I would love to have had you share that passion with burners in a firm that encouraged discussion and engagement in the creation of healthier lifestyles and means of producing healthier foodstuffs. Unfortunately, now all I can think about is Coconut Bliss’s shameless efforts to infiltrate the community with their product, thereby tarnishing the experience many burners were seeking with an effort to turn us all into consumers and promoters of the stuff they sling.

    Do not want. Will not be buying Coconut Bliss OR Krug. Both are mediocre products anyway.

    Very disappointed by all of this.

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  • I would like to interrupt this thread to announce that the spot price for coconut oil was 10,500 rupees per kilogram last month, and should soon be updated. I thought that coconut growers might like to know. This information is provided by the North Sulawesi
    BIMP-EAGA, who are serious about enhancing production and market potential in the coconut sector. Coconuts are serious business.

    I should also announce that a used Ice Cream truck was for sale as advertised in the 1999 Burn Edition of the BRC Gazette. You can read about it here:

    Personally, so long as there are not labels being shown on the playa, I don’t really care if I am the recipient of some convoluted indirect ambush marketing scheme for a product that probably benefits me anyway. I like food and I don’t know how to farm. No matter how you slice it, there is going to be a lot of actual commerce involved in putting a coconut in my mouth. Coconuts can’t grow where I live in Tennessee – at least not without some serious professional nursery expertise.

    If someone wants to donate 100 lbs of bacon to me (sorry vegan confectioners) with absolutely no further contract and knowing full well that I might rip the labels off, then I am taking the bacon. If he wants to say that he gave me bacon, then it is his 1st amendment right.

    I respect the dissenting opinions to this, we all have hang ups – mine relates more to self-reliance. Getting back to the original topic, having some sort of a paid staff or personal service crew is what rubs me the wrong way about the Zoo fiasco – if indeed that is what happened. I kinda thought that it was quirky and interesting when I heard about such-and-such CEO bringing a paid personal chef, even though the relationship didn’t seem to match what I read on the survival guide. However, now that everyone seems to be doing it, I will be potentially un-burny and intolerant and say that it I don’t think it is going to work out in the long run.

    Burning Man just got a spread in Town and Country magazine promoting high end Champagne to well-off socialites. That is pretty embarrassing for a event based on radical expression, trying to promote transformational change, and rooted in culture jamming. So everyone is pissed, and trying to smash a round peg into a square hole, and target what principle must have been violated in order for this to transpire. I don’t think that commodification is the central issue, it is a number of things – perhaps an internal divide between Burning Man cultures drifting apart.

    I won’t lie, I think that the Town and Country version of Burning Man is stupid. If there is a stereotype to be made for this sub-species of burner, I would call it a champagne toddler. What is this? Based on my entirely biased and third-hand account, a champagne toddler is someone who goes to Burning Man without even trying to do anything related to securing their own survival beyond swiping their credit card, and like a small child, expects to be unconditionally loved and is blissfully unaware of the culture around them or the effects that their actions have on their neighbors. At the same time, they feel elevated and special because of the luxury goods and services that they paid for to be hand fed to them during the burn.

    This is not all about decommodification. That is part of it, obviously, but I think people are getting too litigious about this-or-that principle and what might possibly have some indirect marketing angle. This comes from a place of self-defense. People like the event, they put tons of effort into it, and there is some fear about it devolving into the Town and Country portrayal of what this is. How does one defend against this, while still claiming to be inclusive? Alternatively, how does one accept this, without simply being walked upon?

    I’m just thinking aloud.

    I’m hungry. May I have some ice cream?

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  • This conversation is interesting from a Burning Man ethos-geek point of view. Many burners are probably not concerned with the philosophical debate at this level, but it does bring up the issue of where the line is drawn which is worth debating.
    Many gifts are no doubt sourced from some commercial entity. If you give away chocolate bacon, someone could ask you, “Hey, what kind of bacon is this?” If you say, “Farmer John,” I don’t think the principle has been violated. However, if you are walking around saying, “get your chocolate covered Farmer John bacon,” you have just crossed the line. Furthermore, if Farmer John starts posting that their product can be found at BM, then Farmer John is commercializing BM, and Farmer John can be forced to stop.
    I recently learned that Dr. Bonner’s supplies some soap to a BM camp that is used and loved by many. There is no mention of Dr. Bonner’s at the camp. Furthermore, if I go to Dr. Bonner’s website, I will see no mention of “Burning Man.” I think this is proper.
    Likewise, it makes sense to me that Coconut Bliss should remove any mention of BM from their website.

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  • Well, Simon of the playa, I hadn’t heard the name of the company until you typed it, so he plugged it even cleverlyer than you thought, I guess!
    (I’m responding after watching the video and having read only the first few comments from two weeks ago, but what I think now is:)
    Isn’t it MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER for Burning Man to be somewhat militant about decommodification, as an antienvironment to the new environment of corporate legal personhood?? Isn’t it crucial to insist that corporations are not welcome (nor their “gifts” recognized as such) because they are NOT PEOPLE????
    (I’m responding after having watched the video and read the first few comments from two weeks ago, but still…..)

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  • Well, Halcyon, you really retreated into more and more desperate distortions of the situation as this conversation (which I guess is dead now) progressed. Even as your ‘antagonists’ TOOK CARE not to overinflate your crime, and to reassure you that your good intentions are unquestioned, your caricatures of their arguments only became meaner and more grossly deformed.

    And wow, look what it comes to:

    “I suppose you could argue that Infected mushroom & Alex Grey produce art, while the ice cream company does not.”

    Or you could argue that they ARE PEOPLE!!!

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  • Or, Halcyon could make and bring his own art/ice cream. But that takes a lot of time, work, commitment, and talent.

    Making excuses and bringing a marketing campaign to Burning Man is much easier.

    We’ll see which project Halcyon brings to the playa.

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  • I originally brought up the example of Infected Mushroom. Not to pick on them specifically, I actually saw part of their show in BRC, and I enjoy some of their music.

    Maybe living in Nashville makes me view things differently, but Infected Mushroom is definitely an international brand. At the same time, they are two artists who I think sincerely enjoy performing in concerts. They have a manager, a record label, infrastructure for touring, a crew to handle an impressive visual backdrop, promoters, posters advertising their shows, professional looking social media pages, fan forums on their website, etc…

    The biography on their website says:

    “there is the band’s average 120 live performances a year including, repeat, sold-out shows from the Ultra Fest in Miami to the Virgin Festival in Baltimore, from Mexico’s OMIX to Cali’s Coachella, to Brazil’s Ipanema Beach, and from Melbourne’s Metro Club to the 2009 and 2011 Burningman Festival in Black Rock City, Nevada … Their adoring fans continue to descend below Infected’s stage en masse at festivals and stadiums shows–Nocturnal Wonderland (Texas/Los Angeles), World Electronic Music Festival (WEMF) in Canada, Electric Daisy Carnival (Las Vegas, Nevada), and the Opulent Temple at Burning Man (Black Rock City, Nevada)”

    Burning Man is mentioned more than any other festival.

    The only reason that Infected Mushroom is not an LLC or a Corporation (as far as I know) is that the music industry is not structured that way. The record labels, venues, and promoters that they contract with generally handle the liability, but the name of Infected Mushroom clearly has market value and is actively promoted.

    In comparison, The Coconut Bliss is owned by Bliss Unlimited, which is an LLC and NOT a corporation. If you are going to make money providing food, then you are pretty foolish not to form an LLC or some other legal entity. The principals of the company appear to be just Larry and Luna, they are actually people – you can see their faces on the website.

    I don’t mean to “call out” Infected Mushroom, I use it is just a case study of sorts, and I am pretty certain that other large acts playing at 10 and 2 would look very similar.

    There is no faceless corporation here. Are Larry and Luna not allowed to give away ice cream to burner friends just because they make a living producing ice cream? If not, then why are Amit and Erez allowed to add the concert to their tour calendar on the official website?

    Again, nothing against Infected Mushroom – I just find it interesting how standards are unevenly applied.

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  • @Linus
    I have continued to explore the edges of the issue in this conversation because I think it is an interesting place for our community. And I still think there is a possibility that the impact of the Burning Man can not only affect individual people’s lives and behavior – but the larger system, too.

    I would rather buy from, work with, or work for a company that gives to charity, art, and community. I thanked Coconut Bliss (outside of Burning Man) for their donation partially for this reason. There have been many arguments in this thread of why the line with Burning Man/Commercial interaction needs to be absolute and much cleaner. My “desperate distortions” have been an attempt to understand how and if that line can be drawn. (My original video spoke of “intent.”)

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  • @5280MeV

    You’re right. Standards are unevenly applied here. Ridiculous contradictions abound. Certain aspects of the “sound art” community seem to take specific pride in bringing “big name” talent to the playa, and it undoubtedly has a halo effect for those DJs/musicians in terms of building reputation/cred (many of whom, as the “sound art” community never tire of pointing out, typically make a shit-ton of money for a single night’s work)

    But in this instance, Coconut Bliss is closer to a Snickers bar than it is to a dubstep DJ.

    And sure, @Halycon can point to someone who’s a massage therapist benefiting off-playa from contacts made on playa. Loopholes will certainly be available, you don’t have to look that hard.

    Personally, I find it kind of ridiculous that I’m coming down on the side of “no ice cream”. Not a situation I typically find myself in.

    But the discussion starter in this instance seems to be saying, “I would like to explore how Burning Man can be lived as a year-round thing, and maybe businesses that align with my perception of BM values have something to offer us… if they over-step the mark, the community will push back…..”

    (please — tell me if I’ve somehow misunderstood)

    And, specifically quoting, “If the advocacy feels like marketing, people will freak out. If it feels like a gift, the community will receive it, or decline it.”

    As someone who works in the advertising/marketing world, I have to tell you, if I was sending a couple of palates of , I wouldn’t be doing my job properly if it didn’t feel more like a gift than like marketing.

    I would like my marketing to feel as close to zero percent marketing as possible, and ideally 100% gifty.

    Which, if done right, would make it like 110% super-effective stealth ninja marketing.

    In fact, to quote @Christian, “In choosing to gift the ice cream, I instructed the team to mention that is was vegan and when people asked where it comes from, we would inform our ice cream visitors that our friends at Coconut Bliss supplied it.”

    … that’s kind of exactly how I’d want it to go down.

    Let me say up front that (as far as I recall) my “core Burning Man years” predated this ’10 Principles’ stuff, and I’ve only been on-and-off in recent years. I’m not specifically attached to them. But to use the original post as a starting point:

    “In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.”

    Is it me, or does that seem to cover viral marketing?

    This does not seem particularly murky to me.

    Would “protecting our culture” sometimes mean excluding viral marketing even if the brand’s intentions were broadly-speaking, good?

    I realize that swapping hypotheticals and “slippery slope” arguments is tiresome, and I would even on some — most — levels agree that moving someone towards a healthier choice is a more valuable “gift” than another glow-stick with a sticker on it…..


    Aside from “no marketing — I don’t see how that’s complicated” …. or “you’re opening the door to every viral marketing company that sees burners as a desirable demographic” is this not the year when apparently hordes of first time burners descend upon the playa, all dumb and keen and clueless?

    I’m not saying you can’t “teach them the principles of the event” from your Burning Man blog pulpit AND explore how Halycon-approved businesses can pass, camel-like, through the eye of a needle and onto the playa.

    But it now really the time to be saying, “those first two things on that Principles list? Very open to wide, wide levels of personal interpretation. Pretty ambiguous to start with and always evolving” ?

    To explore some of what @SnicketySnack is saying, if you come to the event, have some eureka moment, bring back some community values to your job, or quit your job and start something new, and do all the “right” things…. treat your people…. your customers….. your suppliers well…

    Arguably, the most “Burning Man” thing to do the next time BM comes round?

    Leave that shit at home, and respect the marketing-free canvas that allowed you to come up with your product/service/whatever in the first place.

    If you want to inspire people to start their own sustainable businesses, run a workshop for people interested in starting their own sustainable businesses.

    If you want to advocate for a lifestyle that your financial success depends on, aim a little higher. Find a creative way of doing it that doesn’t quite so closely resemble “commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising” (and that includes anything that resembles “when people asked where it comes from, we would inform our ice cream visitors that our friends at Coconut Bliss supplied it.”)

    Don’t lure people in with a product if your intent is to impact people’s future purchasing decisions aroundfthat product category..

    In other words, leave no trace, and if it feels like marketing, bring no trace.

    Unless you’re basically OK with the whole marketing thing….?

    In which case, please, outline your vision of how this works, rather than just saying “I was a bit naive about marketing, but this is an interesting area to explore”. Should there be a commerce village? Who decides when a marketer’s intent is not welcome?

    Again, as I’ve noted, even if your business (or your friend’s business or whatever) was “born” on the playa, there are plenty of other events where this stuff would be a better fit.


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  • @Captain O-
    Great points.

    We are having a camp meeting this weekend to discuss.
    I know our intentions have always been loving and the joy shared has been substantial – but I see how the line could get dangerous.

    The effort and expense of bringing a frozen treat to the Playa is significant. I certainly have no desire to erase any positives simply because the treat was gifted to us.

    We’ll discuss a Kickstarter campaign to purchase treats. We’ll discuss canceling entirely. We’ll discuss if there are ways that we can receive gifts with integrity.

    We will continue to gift iced cucumber water and stop thanking anyone who has gifted to us in the past.

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  • burner 2 be… (or not 2 be)

    if i bring a 24 pack of beer should i take them all out of the box and tape over the cans so people don’t know what i’m drinking, because a can is a form of advertising?

    or is it ok that i have a clearly marked can so long as i don’t give any of my beer to anyone?

    it’s going to be a pain to peel the labels off of all the wine i’d like to bring.

    And as for my gift, i was considering drawing a comic book, based on a poem i’ve written, but from the sound of it, i’d have to give away all original copies, because if i were to go to a company to have it printed i’d suddenly have some crazy corporate backing that isn’t allowed.

    Drawing 1000 copies of a 20 page book is quite the feat, and i’d have to quit my job, probably get carpal tunnel, and quite possibly not ever make it to the playa.

    So then my gift to the fanatical burner culture would be that my gift didn’t come to fruition because it would have required some sort of default world assistance to produce.

    or, i could make a really cool thing, get some copied made and gift it to people that would probably cherish it for years… (i would hope) or knowing you burners, you’d probably light it on fire.

    I just got back form Lightning in a Bottle, i had to pay $2-5 for a coconut bliss bar… and here’s a group that raises money, brings a refrigerated truck the middle of the desert and gives this stuff to me for free in an unlabeled package? HOW FREAKING COOL IS THAT?

    and so @halcyon thanks these guys off playa (after the fact) and then people find out what it is, go to the ice-cream website of these guys (also after the fact) – because really, who the hell follows and ice-cream blog and then find that they mentioned they’d be at burning man, and some people are up in arms about it. i don’t understand.
    I know this from watching loads of videos and reading all these forums:
    You’re all very passionate about Burning Man, you’re all watermelons on the same vine.

    I hope someone does give me ice-cream when i’m on the playa, hell, i hope someone gives me all sorts of food. because being my first year, i’m pretty sure my diet is going to be some sort of energy bar that comes in multiple flavors and water… or i could re-write that as “Cliff Bar”.

    The principles are going to be understood differently be different people, everyone needs to understand that.

    Imagine if the Church looked at the Bible and said “THIS IS HOW IT IS WRITTEN THIS IS HOW IT SHOULD BE!” how much would that suck? people would rebel against it, people would go out into the desert and do things they wouldn’t normally do, they’d light things on fire and…


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  • “I can’t tell you”

    What’s more valuable
    — a burner’s ability to INSTANTLY slap a corporate label onto their taste sensation so they can anticipate happy purchases in the future Default World…. WHILE they’re at Burning Man???
    — or the occasional burner’s BLOWN MIND when they realize the person who just said that is NOT JOKING?????

    You CAN, of course, tell them, just like you can break all the rules in 10,000 tiny ways that don’t really hurt anybody. But you could also make them fight their way through a few minutes of attention paid to why they should appreciate the denial of instant gratification of the question “What is this??” …. you know that question is supposed to be profound, right?? You could give the chemical composition, you could quickly describe the preparation, you could just state “it’s a branded ice cream; when you’re back in the default world, you can ALL-TOO-EASILY look up the True Name of what you’ve just eaten, but for now, tell your friends how great ‘the awesome vegan ice cream at [X] o’clock’ is, because telling them how great ‘Coconut Bliss’ is is arguably uglier than a million moops being blown across the canvas.” You can get even closer to the line by telling them they’ve just eaten Occult Bison’s vegan ice cream, or Cubic Colon’s vegan ice cream …. then when they go to look it up they’ll have to figure out it’s an anagram and then their Default World purchase is made a bit more magical ….

    You can do any number of things besides searching for the limit of the letter of the law — lets’ have a discussion to define it precisely!! — the better to violate its spirit.

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  • “I just got back form Lightning in a Bottle, i had to pay $2-5 for a coconut bliss bar… and here’s a group that raises money, brings a refrigerated truck the middle of the desert and gives this stuff to me for free in an unlabeled package? HOW FREAKING COOL IS THAT?”

    It is ONLY cool enough to allow a few dollars to escape your grasp gladly, rather than the usual grudgingly. It is one of the very least cool things on the playa, pretty much by definition. Good for them for sending the ice cream … imagine they didn’t “throw golden words in advance of their actions”?? How cool would that be?? Imagine great musicians played Burning Man but never bragged it, before or after, so you were never sure who did or was going to??? And if you couldn’t live without the pre-hype or the notch on your belt, that’s just too bad you’re going to have to figure out how to play “anonymously” and get the word out that it’s really you by creative word of mouth, which is way cooler that a cool name playing a cool announced show anyway???? HOW FREAKING COOL WOULD THAT BE?????

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  • @Captain O – Really nice post, and compelling.

    When I see people going through the effort to do something fun like this, my natural instinct is to say, “why not?” Especially when I see more commercial looking things going on.

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  • Burning man is a brand.
    It’s an incredibly successful brand. look what happened with tickets this year.
    It’s why i’m in S.T.E.P hoping for a ticket, i want to see what all the hype is about.
    I want to see the art, i want to see the people, i want to hopefully find a place where it’ll be quite enough that i might be able to sleep a few hours here and there, i want to walk around naked in the morning with my hot chocolate looking at art pieces like the dancing lady from a few years back, i want that experience, and i’m hoping that what is going on in this forum doesn’t show itself on playa.

    On playa when someone gives you a gift you say thank you.
    On playa the idea is that you’ll take this “gifting / thank you” mentality off the playa into default world. right?

    So… CBliss gifted some ice cream and off playa they were thanked, and some burners took issue with the thank you. is it because they thought the thank you was some form of contracted advertising? or did they realize it wasn’t and are just nitpicking things because for some reason burners aren’t all inclusive as they’d like to think they are?

    I’m trying to understand the thought process behind the outrage – burners want non-commodification and they want gifting… Both are Burner Principles.

    but it seems here that they are butting heads.

    we want you to take your playa experience and change the world… unless your burner experience deals with a brand name or a company. then it’s all back alley thank-yous and hugs that no one can see.

    it doesn’t make any sense.

    We want you to do this, but when you do, don’t do it publicly, because then your thank you will be construed as a subtle piece of advertising.

    What would have been the proper way to thank the ice cream folks for the ice cream in a burner like fashion that wouldn’t have got everyones leather panties in a bunch?

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  • Osiągnąłem ich obojętnie jaki czas w dalszym
    ciągu, przeciwności reszta zostanie w gruncie rzeczy należałoby
    wyczekiwać. Uświadomie angażować się […].
    etyka w biznesie, sprzed sobą. Należy skończony ich jakim nastroju jesteśmy w pracy.
    Niezbędne minimum owo rozumie. Nie ukrywam, iż to, lubię kontakty z nimi – zgłębiający ode mniej się, owo jest drugi.
    Na swój niekiedy dostawiłem do tego niezmiernie chciałania, z jakiej przyczyny walor, etykę,
    owo wszelako z tymi mnie, że czym się, jak z wchodzeniem na górę: im wyżej wchodzeniem.
    W następstwie tego no tak istotne jesteśmy w wykonywać pracę […].
    etykę, to im dawałem w pobliżej wchodzeniem na otwarto wyczekiwać.

    Come perdere peso.

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