Naked Hippies, Leadership Lessons And The “Watermelon Vs Ice Cream” Experiment

By Andy Drish

Element 11 Regional Burning ManStargazer Ranch, Utah
Sunday  5:09 PM

“Give The People What They Want.”

I just finished attending Utah’s regional Burning Man event.  It was a spectacle saturated with hippies, artists, musicians, and a strange nudist colony dubbed “The Care Bares.”

(Get it? Bares…)

Amidst all the chaos and creativity, I wasn’t expecting this place of hippies and weirdos to teach me a lesson in marketing (and leadership)…

It was the dead heat of Friday afternoon and the sun was scorching the dry, dusty earth.  I checked the temperature and it said 105*.   

My buddy Will and I were getting a little bored, so we wanted to do something fun and creative.  But it was too hot to move.

Like any high maintenance Burner, we cranked up the AC to high and stayed in the RV.

Then Will had an idea… “Let’s setup a sign and give out ice cream to people.”  

So we made a sign on a white board and sat it out on a lawn chair on the road next to our RV.   The sign said, “Mutha [email protected] Ice Cream!!!  (Dairy Free 😀 )”

Within 30 seconds a camp of 5 people saw the sign and came over.  1 minute later a group of six performers searching for Ice came over.  And within 2 minutes we had music blasting, people dancing and a line of people wanting ice cream.

A party appeared out of nowhere.  Hugs. Laughter. Dancing.  Fun.

Magic.

Until 15 minutes later, when we ran out of ice cream.

No ice cream = no party.  So everyone left.

(Which was disappointing because we were enjoying being the center of attention.)

So Will and I started scheming… “What else can we give away?” we thought.

Well, we had a gigantic yellow, seedless watermelon.  So we cut it up and changed the sign, “Mutha [email protected] Watermelon!!”

And guess what happened next…

Nothing.

Nobody stopped by.  People saw the sign and kept walking.  Uninterested.

We thought we had a marketing problem, so we changed up the copy.   (We’re such nerds.)

“Ever Eaten Exotic Yellow Watermelon?  Come Try Some  —> “

Again, nothing.

So then we started proactively reaching out to people.

Two girls walk by and Will shouts, “Hey – do you want some watermelon?”

They pause.  Look at each other.  Debate for a minute. And begrudgingly walk over as if they had some sort of obligation to accept our offer.   

Our first sale.  Even though it took some work.

Then a family on an art car were slowly driving by and Will runs out there with a bowl of watermelon and says, “Hey guys – do you want some watermelon?”

They reacted with the same disdain people feel when a Greenpeace fundraiser interrupts you to ask, “Do you have a minute to save the rain forest?”

Then Will says, “It’s yellow and seedless.  Want to try it?”

And then they said, “Ah… okay.”  As if they were doing us a favor by eating the watermelon we were giving away.

That’s when it hit me…

This is exactly what happens to entrepreneurs when they don’t have a good product… but don’t realize it. 

They start by offering the product.

People don’t want it.  So they change how they position it.

People still don’t want it. So they get more aggressive and proactive with marketing.  They get a sale and they think that’s traction. 

But it’s not…

They push harder and harder until they burnout or finally surrender to the fact that nobody wants what they’re selling.  And they waste a LOT of time and energy ‘pushing’ something onto others.  Instead of inviting them into an experience.

All because they don’t know what it’s like to sell ice cream instead of watermelon.

The Marketing Lesson:   “Give The People What They Want.”

PT Barnum of Barnum and Bailey’s Circus was famous for giving audiences whatever they wanted.  He didn’t care about the show.  He only cared about one thing:  Did people have fun?” 

If people were happy, that was all that mattered.  Period.  End of story.

But that is only half the truth…  You can’t only give people what they want, if you want to lead.

Only giving people what they want leads to shitty infomercials peddling shitty products that nobody will remember.

Like the ShamWow.

You cannot blindly allow people’s desires to drive your whole business.  And… you cannot ignore the fact that desire is the driver all human behavior.

The truth is, you have to lead and follow at the same time. 

You have to use the desire of ‘what people want’ to lead them to ‘where people need to go.’

You have to “give the people what they want.”   But you also have to lead them to a destination that leaves them better off than when they started.

If you ignore the second half, you’re contributing to the demise of society.

This is how we’ve ended up with a world with brands like The Kardashians, Monsanto and Wrestlemania.

You can make a lot of money by just giving the world what they want.  (That’s probably why PT Barnum wrote a book titled, “The Art of Money Getting.”)

But don’t pretend that you’re leading.

Because if you want to truly lead…

..If you want to be part of evolving humanity forward, you must do both…

Give the people what they want.   And lead them where they need to go.  Both.  At the same time.

We need more leaders.  Not more infomercials.