Corporate Courting

The line in the sand has been getting more and more blurry over the years.

While there is no commerce on Playa, obviously we need to buy goods and services for our trips. As a community, we are still working out how corporations can work with Burners in a healthy way.

For example, many rental companies have had an “illicit affair” model in place where lying was a part of the process. “Don’t come back with hickies, lipstick on your collar, or dust in the engine…and whatever you do, don’t tell us you are taking it to Burning Man!”

But check out U-Haul’s olive branch offering to Burners renting trucks: A video showing how to cover logos (and honor the Decommodification Principle) without damaging the truck. Plus they share a list of clean up tips and local resources.

U Haul would have scored 100% except for the cutesy use of “Barter Supplies” as a header at the bottom instead of just “Supplies.” (Gifting is NOT Barter.)

Now, if this video is a part of a marketing push, I may change my tune. But for now I’m giving big dusty props to U-Haul for addressing the reality of the situation without pandering or exploiting the community.

NOTE: I am a 17 year Burner with a passion for the event, the principles and our community. Like the vast majority of writers in this space, I am not a representative of the BMORG. This is not an endorsement of U-Haul by myself and especially not by Burning Man. It is simply an (interesting to me) data point in the ever-evolving integration between the default world and Burning Man.

About the author: John "Halcyon" Styn

John

Halcyon is a 20-year Burning Man participant and co-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 HugNation.com. He hosted the defunct NBC.com 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 www.Halcyon.pink

44 Comments on “Corporate Courting

  • JV says:

    “Now, if this video is a part of a marketing push, I may change my tune.”

    It’s a video made by a for-proft business targeted at potential customers. That’s pretty much the definition of a “marketing push.” Me no likey.

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    • Not sure I agree, @JV. Creating a resource to address an ongoing problem is not the same thing as a marketing attempt.
      There is nothing in this about Burning Man except an honoring of our Principles.
      I would imagine Burner renters would be sent to this page by U-Haul offices far more than U-Haul would use this as a “”sponsored video” on our feeds. But, as I said, I could be wrong.

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    • HoldZ says:

      If uhaul offered this as an additional deal then I would support it but stating in the video that it is a BM requirement for all logos to be covered is both untrue & misleading.

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  • Tanner says:

    Uhaul rental agencies are independently owned franchises. Make no mistake, if they get a whiff that you’re taking it off-road to Burning Man it doesn’t matter what Corporate thinks about the ‘community’ – you’re going to get the truck that’s falling apart and barely starts.

    Protip – if your Uhaul box truck doesn’t start at any point along your return journey (because they gave you the shit truck because you rented from Santa Cruz 2 days before the event with pink hair and you didn’t take your lip rings out), it’s almost certainly the starter motor. The dust fucks it up. You need to get under the rig and hit it with a hammer or big wrench. Then try to start it again.

    Better yet, stay away from Uhaul, they’re crap. I recommend Ryder.

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  • Commodification celebrating decommodification! What a wild and wondrous world in which we live. Thanks, Halcyon, for sharing this Public Service Announcement.

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  • JV says:

    Look at us all talking about U-Haul! Hooray, it’s working! Mission accomplished. It’s a commercial, dude.

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    • Of course it is commercial. Very few theme camps would make it to BRC without a whole lotta commercial transactions. Burning Man does not exist in a vacuum. The goal is to create an environment where the commercialism doesn’t cross the boundary into Black Rock City.
      This seems like a very responsible corporate attempt to honor our Principles and keep Burners in good standing with them as a vendor (by not damaging trucks and incurring extra fees.)

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      • JV says:

        It’s commercial, and also A commercial. They knew that if they slapped it up on YouTube, us burners would do the rest and spread it like good consumers. And they’re not doing it out of the good their hearts, they’re doing it to lessen the damage to the trucks. Which, hey, I understand, but they’re using the Burning Man name to do so. It’s pure marketing, man. I can’t see how this doesn’t violate the decommodification principle, nor can I understand how the BMORG doesn’t issue a cease and desist. This is FAR more egregious than a DJ using Burning Man on a video of his set on the playa. (And I didn’t like that, either.)

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  • Gary says:

    If this is not commercial than what is? Just buy putting this on the blog your promoting Uhaul. Next are we gonna get the spam from the guy at Cash and Carry in Reno for Whipits.

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    • First off, unless specifically stated, all posts in this section are done by individuals in the community and do not represent Burning Man. (I’ll add that to my post, to clarify.)
      But I think that the evolution of corporate relations with Burner culture is news-worthy. And if Cash & Carry implemented an “empty cartridge recycle program” to work with the needs of Burners, then I think that would be worth a mention, too.

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  • Btw, I am assuming this is a resource page for U-Haul to refer renting Burners. If it is used as an ad or sponsored post then the use of the phrase Burning Man is automatically problematic.
    Perhaps it is inherently a problem because shoppers could discover it via searching “Burning Man” and truck rental? On second thought I’ll downgrade my rating to a 70%. Remove “Barter” and say “Desert Festival” instead of “Burning Man” and they’d get a gold star.

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    • JV says:

      How is this any different than big box stores in Reno putting together “Burning Man essentials” on an end-cap? That is also frowned upon.

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      • Good question.
        I don’t see this as an attempt to sell you on a U-Haul, but to have a harmonious experience bringing a U-Haul to Burning Man.

        If a Reno supermarket was showing a video explaining how to use dry ice and 2 coolers to keep food fresh for 10 days, I think that might be kinda cool.

        The more I think on it, the more I realize the problem with using the “Burning Man” name. But I still think the intention is good and appreciate the direction.

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      • JV says:

        The stores are basically doing that, in that they’ve collected what a person might need on the playa in one spot, to “assist” people who may not know what to bring. Conveniently for the store, they also purchase those items, just like it’s convenient for U-Haul that they’re offering the kit for $25 bucks. I mean seriously, this is a flat-out advertisement for that kit under the auspices of “education,” and a really good one. If they didn’t have the kit to sell, it would be slightly more kosher, although they’d still be using the Burning Man name.

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  • JV says:

    There’s a disclaimer at the bottom of that page:

    “* BURNING MAN is the registered trademark of Decommodification , LLC.
    U-Haul is not affiliated with or endorsed by Decommodification, LLC, Burning Man Project or Black Rock City, LLC.”

    That’s the first I’ve ever seen of something like that, and it seems to indicate that U-Haul has an agreement with the BMORG to use the Burning Man name for this page. Anyone know if that’s the case? I’d certainly be against that.

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  • Stuart Shoen says:

    Thanks to the author for your initial assessment. I understand your suspicions, but I would like to assure you that you are reading us correctly in that we are not trying to pander or exploit. We’re just trying to be helpful. The following statement is 100% correct:

    “I don’t see this as an attempt to sell you on a U-Haul, but to have a harmonious experience bringing a U-Haul to Burning Man.”

    The truth is: misuse of our equipment by Burners or anyone else diminishes our ability to serve our intended customer: the DIY Household Mover. When our trucks are misused, they require added costs to return to service and while getting fixed, they are out of service and unavailable for other customers to use. I assure you, there is no event on the North American continent that has a comparable effect on our equipment. There is nothing like the Burning Man festival as far as impacting large amounts of our trucks in a deleterious or potentially deleterious way. This content’s purpose is, 100%, to mitigate the damage, not to increase the income related to these rentals. After years of trying various behind-the-curtain tactics (all unsuccessful), we decided to try to simply talk to our customers about it.

    That said, a few things:

    First off, U-Haul attempted to contact the organizers of Burning Man in an effort to publish this content in a way that they would have preferred. Our attempts to communicate were never answered or even acknowledged. We would have liked some guidance along the way and we never got it. Please accept my apologies for not having better etiquette. This isn’t our turf and this was our best shot. We will take down the term “Barter Supplies” and just call them “supplies”. Obviously, we got that wrong. Happy to change it.

    Second, Tanner’s comment represents a great deal of misinformation about the structure, operation and procedures of U-Haul. I won’t dignify or try to talk him out of his opinion about our equipment, but his misstatements of fact are just that, and not relevant to this conversation. For example, Ryder is no longer in this business and hasn’t been for years. Also, I’ll kindly ask everyone not to hit anything on our equipment with a wrench. I wouldn’t do that to your car even if I paid you to borrow it, so please don’t do it to ours.

    Now, I’ll try to let everyone down easy here: U-Haul is a for-profit enterprise. It pays a lot of salaries and plenty of good things flow from them. So I won’t apologize for it, and likewise I won’t ask anyone to apologize for embracing the values that the festival embodies. I have no social agenda except to try to help all our customers do what they want to do in a way that doesn’t prevent another customer from doing what they want to do. Maybe you disagree, but I think it’s totally appropriate and within bounds for my team and I to try to talk to our customers about how to use (or how not to use) our equipment.

    We’ve been in business for 70 years, and we know where our bread is buttered. Our bills and salaries are paid by the DIY Household Mover, and we’ve earned their business by offering them products, services, and help in a chaotic time (moving) that is worth paying for… and not by conning them on a one-time basis. Our Company’s business model is the “specialization of use and the division of ownership”. Our business is dependent on being part of a community, not fleecing it. We’ve lost customers when we’ve screwed this up; we win customers when we get it right. This, not the expenditure of an advertising budget, is how our business lives and dies. I would also like to categorically state that U-Haul is spending zero advertising dollars behind this communication. The only people that have been sent this message are individuals who have already rented equipment. If this were an ad campaign, this one would fail in epic proportions.

    As I said, this content is sent to existing customers according to very specific parameters that have nothing to do with piercings or hair color. We put videos on YouTube for the exact same reason individuals put their cat videos on YouTube: so that people looking for this content might actually find it. This is also the reason that we use the festival’s name instead of referring to it generically. We didn’t see the point of trying to provide information to a very specific group (i.e., individuals considering taking U-Haul equipment to the Burning Man festival) and not mention specifics about that group. And yes, our legal team made sure we only use the name in a legal and permissive way.

    Of course, some people are incredibly and incontrovertibly suspicious of anyone in business. I’m not here crusading to change any of that. I’m here to clear up our intentions, and respect all the perspectives out there. All I ask is that you respect ours, which is simply: if you’re not going to use our equipment in its intended use case scenario (DIY Household Moving), then please don’t make it hard for other customers who do. That’s all our content is about.

    Thanks for your time.

    Stuart Shoen
    Executive Vice President, U-Haul International

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    • Boogity says:

      Thank you for writing this explanation.

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    • roissy says:

      Well said, I appreciate U-Haul trying to adhere to the BM ethos… And trying to show customers how not to get dinged on the backend when returning trucks…

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    • Thank you for the reply, Stuart. If you ever want some “non-official” feedback on Burning Man related issues, I’d be happy to help. (Halcyon@HugNation.com) That being said, as a corporation, you will offend some of us no matter what you do. Thanks for trying. :)

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      • JV says:

        Yes, Halcyon is Decommodification, LLC’s top corporate liaison and consultant. He can assist you with any and all of your synergistic marketing needs.

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    • Justin Case says:

      As a 6 Year Burner who can actually see both sides of the fence, I say BRAVO Mr. Shoen. I see absolutely nothing wrong with the video, except with a few things that John “Halcyon” pointed out which you gracefully acknowledged and corrected.
      You and your company saw a problem and instead of not offering your vehicles to those heading to Black Rock City, you made a valiant effort to find a solution. $25 is a very fair price for this solution. For some it has probably cost far more in material, damage fees and just removal time.

      Mr. Shoen, You have bravely jumped into the hornets nest to offer an explanation and for that, I applaud you. I am a long time DIY mover and had a 95% more than satisfactory experience. (the 5% was for a vehicle that broke down) so yes… having functioning, clean vehicles is a must.

      Don’t mind the few hippies bitching about the corporate blah blah which doesn’t belong at burning man as they are typing away on their I-phone while decorating their Huffy bike purchased at Walmart in preparations for our migration back to that wonderful dusty place in the middle of the desert we call home )'( ;-p

      With all that being said, I thought you ay be interested in our massive,
      XUZA Art Car Project we’re building for Burning Man this year. We have five days left in our campaign!

      XUZA Art Car 2.0 Campaign

      http://igg.me/at/XUZA2015/x/7621921

      ok, sorry for the gratuitous plug, but seeing that John “Halcyon” sort of did your company a HUGE favor with this very positive blog post….I figured it wouldn’t hurt presenting some non-profit art that makes Burning Man the amazing place that it is.

      Thank you

      you’re all amazing <3
      see ya in the dust!

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    • Mike "Justin Case" Cee says:

      As a 6 Year Burner who can actually see both sides of the fence, I say BRAVO Mr. Shoen. I see absolutely nothing wrong with the video, except with a few things that John “Halcyon” pointed out which you gracefully acknowledged and corrected.
      You and your company saw a problem and instead of not offering your vehicles to those heading to Black Rock City, you made a valiant effort to find a solution. $25 is a very fair price for this solution. For some it has probably cost far more in material, damage fees and just removal time.

      Mr. Shoen, You have bravely jumped into the hornets nest to offer an explanation and for that, I applaud you. I am a long time DIY mover and had a 95% more than satisfactory experience. (the 5% was for a vehicle that broke down) so yes… having functioning, clean vehicles is a must.

      Don’t mind the few hippies bitching about the corporate blah blah which doesn’t belong at burning man as they are typing away on their I-phone while decorating their Huffy bike purchased at Walmart in preparations for our migration back to that wonderful dusty place in the middle of the desert we call home )'( ;-p

      With all that being said, I thought you ay be interested in our massive,
      XUZA Art Car Project we’re building for Burning Man this year. We have five days left in our campaign!

      XUZA Art Car 2.0 Campaign
      http://igg.me/at/XUZA2015/x/7621921

      ok, sorry for the gratuitous plug, but seeing that John “Halcyon” sort of did your company a HUGE favor with this very positive blog post….I figured it wouldn’t hurt presenting some non-profit art that makes Burning Man the amazing place that it is.

      Thank you

      you’re all amazing <3
      see ya in the dust!ff

      Report comment

    • Mike Chase says:

      Thank you for posting such a cogent and thoughtful response! This is above and beyond what I’d expect from a corporation (fortunately and unfortunately!).

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    • Kampy says:

      Thanks for the clarification Stuart. Like thousands of other burners, I’m part of a group that rents from your company to get our gear to the event, so I’m the target audience for this video & web page. I appreciate this outreach on your part, I think it’s sensible for all involved, and believe your explanation re: the motivations behind it. We might not purchase the $25 kit you offer (we’ll probably alter the logos with low-tack painter’s tape like we usually do) but it’s nice to have that option. I suspect that the majority of burners feel likewise, but there will always be pessimists whose minds will never change, and they tend to be the most vocal. But a big thumbs up from me. :-)

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  • Boogity says:

    It’s pretty amazing to see a corporation submitting to logo removal. Things are changing in the world!

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  • JV says:

    “First off, U-Haul attempted to contact the organizers of Burning Man in an effort to publish this content in a way that they would have preferred. Our attempts to communicate were never answered or even acknowledged. We would have liked some guidance along the way and we never got it.”

    So U-Haul went ahead and used a copyrighted brand (the Burning Man name) in their own advertisement. The BMORG probably didn’t respond because one of the core tenants of the event is decommodification, and, ideally, the burner community is not interested in “partnering” with corporate entities on product placement. The efforts to make this advertisement as burner-friendly as possible are disingenuous, as the only reason to do so is to not offend potential customers.

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    • King Charles says:

      “Burning Man” is a public event, so they don’t need permission to mention it any more than the Reno Gazette-Journal needs permission to mention it.

      Burners are going to rent trucks, vans, and trailers every year at a very predictable time for a very predictable number of days. It’s not hard to spot. The number of burners goes up pretty much every year, and there are only a limited number of rental vehicles and rental companies, so there’s a sharp increase in demand and no change in supply (book early). I’m willing to bet U-Haul doesn’t need to do a damn thing to attract BM business, so an advertising budget would be wasted money. In fact, for years they generally tried to deter burners by asking pointed questions about their intended use, and got BM business anyway. Business they probably don’t need, given their size. The notion that they are trying to attract BM patronage is frankly ludicrous to anyone who has been paying attention.

      So I’m inclined to take Stuart at his word. I appreciate that they made an effort to reach out to the org, that they are willing to tweak something they got slightly wrong (that is commonly misunderstood, and that they already fixed), and that they’re actually recognizing that many people renting for the event will want to cover the logos and are trying to accommodate that. Yeah, they’re a little overzealous (I’ve never seen anyone cover their car badges, and people usually just greek U-Haul to U-Hell or something), yeah the kits are $25 (a smaller kit with just tape might be better) – taking a truck to Burning Man is going to run you $1500 or more, somehow I don’t think a 1.7% surcharge is going to show up on their quarterly profits. It’s rare that a big corporation makes even a small gesture of good faith, let’s not spit in their eye.

      I think there are better targets for your anger. But you know, if you need to fill your life with pointless, ineffectual outrage, please, don’t let me stop you. Radically self-immolate.

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      • JV says:

        ““Burning Man” is a public event, so they don’t need permission to mention it any more than the Reno Gazette-Journal needs permission to mention it.”

        Factually and legally not true. There are different laws and regulations regarding covering an event and mentioning a copyrighted name while reporting it as news, and using a copyrighted name to sell a product. Look, if you’re cool with the slow and steady creep of corporate sponsorship and advertising on to the playa, that’s your business. I’m not. It’s not the end of the world, of course, it’s just Burning Man. But the one damn week out of the year free from advertising, and the other 51 weeks not seeing Burning man being used in advertising, is one of the things I appreciate most about the event.

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  • La Kama'a Wahine Lani says:

    I appreciate the video from U-haul. I find absolutely nothing wrong with the way it was made! I think they gave it a good shot thoughtfully!

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  • at1ment says:

    Egads! Burners are SOOOOO sensitive and combative about …. so many things. I appreciate the nuances in the various comments above and I agree with all of them even when they are conflictive and contrary to each other. Go figure. Still, I gotta say I appreciate this effort by uHaul to provide a solution to a Burner problem. Yeah, it’s another way to sale yet another uHaul product. But it also proposes a means to resolve a Burner problem while minimizing unwanted penalties and expenses. How uHaul markets and advertises the solution should be separated from the actual solution itself. The solution is good. The pitch needs work. But I appreciate Mr Shoen’s attempt. Kudos.

    To be honest I do recall seeing very many commercial logos on clear display on the playa. Policing logos at the gate isn’t working. As BM grows the purity of some of the Principles seems to get diluted. Good luck with that. We can rue the loss or just keep trying to stay true to the Principles as best we can. I’m sure they’re out there – maybe even on the BM website – but this is the first time I’ve ever seen such a proactive solution to the logo issue. I’m hauling a uHaul trailer to BM this year for the first time. I knew about the commercial logo issue but wasn’t planning to do anything about it because it wasn’t apparent anybody else was either. I now plan to cover the uHaul logo. I might even use the uHaul masking solution. I’d rather use material I can buy locally. Can somebody point me to a common source which provides a similar material? I’m hoping to find something I can paint on or print on. I want to paint/print my Camp name and maybe some BM-related logos. I presume that’s OK?

    Thanks for any help.

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    • JV says:

      It’s so convenient that U-Haul is making it easy for us burners to cover up a logo, isn’t it!? SO much easier than coming up with a solution ourselves. THANK YOU U-HAUL!! You are making going to Burning Man more convenient and that’s what it’s all about!! I eager await the Coleman company to start manufacturing Burning Man™ tents. Amirite!?

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  • FYI, This is from the Survival Guide
    http://survival.burningman.org/culture/being-a-good-citizen-of-brc/

    LOGOS & BRANDING
    Burning Man is a decommodified zone where branding is not welcome. Advertising? Hell no. Launching a product? Not in Black Rock City. Burning Man is not (and will never be) something to be used in promotion of your business, website, or product. Got a van from work with logos? Cover it up. Got a rental truck or RV? Alter the logos. Taking pictures of a product on playa to promote it online? That’s not even close to being okay. Neither is using Burning Man to promote your business before, during, or after, the event.

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  • As a 6 Year Burner who can actually see both sides of the fence, I say BRAVO Mr. Shoen. I see absolutely nothing wrong with the video, except with a few things that John “Halcyon” pointed out which you gracefully acknowledged and corrected.
    You and your company saw a problem and instead of not offering your vehicles to those heading to Black Rock City, you made a valiant effort to find a solution. $25 is a very fair price for this solution. For some it has probably cost far more in material, damage fees and just removal time.

    Mr. Shoen, You have bravely jumped into the hornets nest to offer an explanation and for that, I applaud you. I am a long time DIY mover and had a 95% more than satisfactory experience. (the 5% was for a vehicle that broke down) so yes… having functioning, clean vehicles is a must.

    Don’t mind the few hippies bitching about the corporate blah blah which doesn’t belong at burning man as they are typing away on their I-phone while decorating their Huffy bike purchased at Walmart in preparations for our migration back to that wonderful dusty place in the middle of the desert we call home )'( ;-p

    With all that being said, I thought you ay be interested in our massive,
    XUZA Art Car Project we’re building for Burning Man this year. We have five days left in our campaign!

    XUZA Art Car 2.0 Campaign
    ww.indiegogo.com/projects/xuza-art-car-2-0-burning-man-2015/x/7621921#/story

    ok, sorry for the gratuitous plug, but seeing that John “Halcyon” sort of did your company a HUGE favor with this very positive blog post….I figured it wouldn’t hurt presenting some non-profit art that makes Burning Man the amazing place that it is.

    Thank you

    you’re all amazing <3
    see ya in the dust!

    Report comment

    • JV says:

      “Don’t mind the few hippies bitching about the corporate blah blah which doesn’t belong at burning man as they are typing away on their I-phone while decorating their Huffy bike purchased at Walmart in preparations for our migration back to that wonderful dusty place in the middle of the desert we call home )'( ;-p”

      Totally missing the point. Nothing wrong with commerce, and of course burners purchase all kinds of products from all kinds of companies and corporations in order to live for a week in the middle of a desert. U-Haul provides a valuable service at a reasonable cost, which is why you see so many of their trucks and trailers on the playa. Totally cool.

      The point is that U-Haul is using the Burning Man name, which is copyrighted out of necessity, in an advertisement for their product. That is not cool. Doesn’t matter that it’s dressed up as a helpful hint.

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  • Doug says:

    Thank you Mr. Shoen for a very coherent post. The part everyone seems to be missing is that, from a marketing standpoint, it is clearly NOT in your best interests to have your logos covered. It looks like there’s a lot of stuff in the kit for just $25. Personally, I wonder if you are even covering your costs.

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  • margaret says:

    Nicely put Mr Shoen. Thanks for being thoughtful about our community and our needs while still protecting the equipment of your business. 15 year burner here, very satisfied u-haul client on multiple occasions.

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  • mariemichelle says:

    jesus h. christ. who gives a fuck which rental co. you throw for money at to haul your crap up to the playa.
    relax, bro.

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  • Gman says:

    I been home sick n stumbled upon this burning man event. Still trying to figure it out. But seems like a double edged sword compared to baker beach days. Seems like loser hope artists and homosexuals. Orgies lol my God your all a bunch of weekend wanna be hippies. LMAO. GROW UP N GET A DECENT JOB. KILL A COMMIE FOR YOUR MOMMY

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