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(gif by the author for Hyperallergic)

David Foster Wallace was right, meta-television is the future, but a new meta-corporate advertisement by Quiznos may be one of the best examples of how corporations will serve up anti-corporate humor for the masses in an attempt to advance their own toasty agenda.

With high production values and the allure of a dystopian sci-fi flick, the faux film trailer shows characters from The Maze Runner movie franchise walking into this cinematic Burning Man and realizing:

They lied to us … [they] said it was anti-establishment society based on radical self-expression. It’s become a place for rich people to check off their bucket list.

The ad is so self-aware you can’t help but laugh at its mocking tone and its seductive artifice. Meta-advertising like this appears to be informed by what the Situationists called détournement, or the recycling and inversion of products in capitalist society in a subversive way, and their placement into new settings to create new meanings. No longer avant-garde, if it ever truly was, this type of détournement is both a social critique and a ridiculous celebration of 21st-century pop culture. The placement of Quiznos sandwiches is prominent enough throughout the advertisement to make them memorable, but not enough to make viewers not want to share the viral video.

But Burning Man is not meta-amused, and according to the Reno Gazette-Journal the desert meet-up’s organizers are considering suing for “theft of the event’s intellectual property.”

How do you prove you’re anti-capitalist nowadays? By suing someone or something, of course!

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

7 replies on “Meta-Corporate Ad Torches Burning Man”

  1. What makes this “meta” rather than just simply parody on the part of Quiznos? Wouldn’t it have to be specifically referencing sandwich-making in order for it to be a “meta” version of the actual brand? And in order to be meta-corporate it would have to somehow showcase the corporate decision-making or development of the thing itself – which it doesn’t.

    As far as I read this, Quiznos isn’t being self-referential… maybe the advertising company and The Maze Runner are. But Quiznos seems to be piggy-backing on those other meta-fictions in order to reap the rewards of culture’s love of the parodic.

    Given that I might be nit-picking here, I find the deployment of Foster Wallace’s position on the matter to be absent from the actual video. I also wonder if there doesn’t need to be a bit more responsibility to the real meaning that underlies works like his and other post-modern fabulists, lest they be further misunderstood and inaccurately deployed.

    I get that it makes for good copy and may facilitate Hyperallergic to stand in a more er… ‘knowing’ position on the matter. But I suppose I expect more.

    1. I usually don’t respond to these kind of condescending comments but here goes.
      It is parodying the corporate structure and the co option of pop culture (which is exactly what this series is doing, burning man as Quiznos?) and is related to a body of ads (though this is the most successful). The idea of being “burners” could be seen as part of the larger Quiznos brand which is known to toast their sandwiches, and the discussion about non-GMO is directly related to corporate discussions that have been raging on the topic (the commercial makes fun of non-GMO and Quiznos is NOT non-GMO).
      I think you want it to be more obvious than it is but I think being subtle is the creepy part. For instance, another in the series: http://youtu.be/mS05bRnIAcg

    2. Umm, it’s meta-advertising, not meta-sandwiches. It’s advertising that shows its awareness of its own status. From the authority on everything, Wikipedia, “In epistemology, the prefix meta- is used to mean about (its own category).” This is advertising that, in sometimes subtle and sometimes not subtle ways, is about advertising, about corporate branding, etc. And yes, it’s also parody. Meta and parody aren’t mutually exclusive.

  2. a very clever parody…would like to have seen a bit more emphasis on the absurdity(?) of billionaire Silicon Valley folks setting up million dollar tents to demonstrate their grassroots coolness – as they wheel and deal their ever-increasing control of the earth…

    1. Armand – Burning Man is inclusive: rich people, Republicans, CHristians – everyone is welcome at our event. The silicone valley folks have been coming to Burning MAn for years, so what? they certainly don’t dominate our event. All the silly stories about Burning MAn having “jumped the shark” are clickbait. I’ve gone for 21 years in a row and the same mad creativity, generosity, acceptance and community effort still rule our event. Come and see for yourself.

  3. I work for Burning Man, and this “meta-ad” is simply using our name and content to sell a damn sandwich. Should we not respond? Yes, its funny and we all laughed – but they are violating our policies. We do not sell our soul to corporations so that they can exploit us to sell crap. We never have, and never will. We stand for decommodification. We do not advertise. Here’s a blog post that addresses the Quiznos issue: http://blog.burningman.com/2015/09/opinion/forget-the-legal-questions-about-sandwiches-are-burners-consumers-or-are-we-something-else/

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