Influencing Burner culture
The Burning Man Project
San Francisco, CA
Since my first Burning Man experience in 1995, I have witnessed the event grow exponentially larger. With my extensive experience and deep connection to the event, it was only natural for me to take an active role in shaping its culture for the better.
Problem: Burning Man was seeing a disturbing trend in participant behavior, including an erosion of participation, lack of preparedness, increased vandalism and violence, and an attitude of entitlement.
Goal: An initiative called Project Citizenship was launched to instill a sense of social responsibility in participants, with focus areas on participation, self-reliance, being nice, and reducing MOOP (Matter Out of Place). The aim of this cross-departmental effort was to preserve and protect the community ethos that sets Burning Man apart from festivals and other mass-produced events, and to scale the unique culture of Black Rock City.
Solution: In collaboration with the internal communications team, I devised a series of emails aimed at fostering a tighter-knit and more responsible community among ticketholders. To achieve this, we adopted a refreshing approach by having the dispatches written in a relatable and personal tone, coming directly from the organization's events operations director himself. Rather than coming across as a faceless top-down authoritative figure, this approach allowed us to establish a deeper sense of trust and rapport with the audience, resulting in a more effective and engaging mode of communication. You can read the "From the Desk of Charlie Dolman" emails here.
I also created other forms of content such as memes and a blog post, all aimed at addressing the key concerns of the project. Among these creations, a standout was a playful twist on the conventional airplane seat-pocket safety card, paying homage to the event's culture-jamming roots. From conceptualization to writing and art direction, I was charged with producing this playful safety card. It was distributed to passengers on Burner Express direct-to-playa flights and bus rides, with the aim of capturing their attention, and ensuring that the big ideas of Burner culture sticks with them.
Result: Project Citizenship was a resounding success. The response from the community about the email campaign specifically was overwhelmingly positive, with recipients opening the messages at a rate more than double the Jackrabbit Speaks, Burning Man Project's official newsletter. And, last I heard, the safety card is still in use.