Man has conquered the clouds, so it’s not surprising that the advertising industry is looking beyond the stratosphere to the final frontier -- where no adman has gone before, or at least not gone in a while. Call the phenomenon “Gravity’s rainbow." The popular outer-space flick seems to be stirring marketers’ restless imaginations, renewing interest in the cosmos as a media buy, content opportunity, and a marketing pot of gold.
In the beginning, of course, there was Tang. The powdered orange drink launched in 1959 -- but it wasn’t until John Glenn guzzled it on a Mercury mission years later that the brand took off and became a huge hit, promoted with a campaign featuring the tagline “For Space Men and Earth Families.”
The Madison Avenue space race has been moving in fits and starts since then. Pizza Hut delivered a salami-topped pie in 2001 to cosmonauts (for a $1 million fee) and Toshiba ballooned an armchair into near-space in the 2009 TV spot Space Chair, featuring the tagline: “Armchair viewing. Redefined.” Recently, entrepreneurs have been shilling an insane but not improbable Shadow Shaping scheme in which dune-buggy robots will contour lunar dust on the Moon into massive brand logos that will allegedly last a thousand years and reach “twelve billion eyeballs,” easily besting the CPMs of a Super Bowl.
Now spacevertising is ramping up thanks to space tourism startups like Virgin Galactic, Elon Musk’s Space X, John Carmack’s Armadillo Aerospace, and Space Adventures Ltd., which promise lucrative brand sponsorships, product placement and celebrity seeding opportunities with Hollywood stars who have booked flights. Mark Burnett, the producer of “Survivor” and “The Apprentice,“ reportedly signed a deal with Virgin Galactic and NBC to develop a reality show called “Space Race” about contestants competing to climb aboard Richard Branson’s SpaceShipTwo. Expect megatons of brand integration.
For a Lynx Apollo body spray promotion, Axe has just chosen twenty-three wanna-be astronauts who were introduced to the press by Buzz Aldrin and will be catapulted into the heavens next year on a XCOR Aerospace Lynx spacecraft, named after the deodorant line, of course.
Lady Gaga’s fragrance brand Fame no doubt will aromatize the heavens when she blasts into orbit on a Virgin Galactic ship in 2015 for the Zero G Colony music festival. Gaga plans to upstage Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield’s Space Oddity video and be the first professional singer to warble in the cosmos.
Also in the works is Mars One, a mission to establish a permanent space colony on the red planet. Organizers plan to finance the project by selling a brand sponsored reality show about the search for candidates and the launch of the mission in 2023. Mars One is a one-way undertaking for cast members who are expected to stay on the planet for the rest of their lives.
On the face of it, advertising in space is not such a giant leap for mankind. After all, outer space has always represented the future, from comic books to movies, and likewise in advertising, brands have always promised the future. GE and BP, for example, are always telling consumers they are going to lead them forward into a brighter, better world. They describe the process as “exploration” and “growth” and describe the destination as modern and progressive. Space has long been a giant metaphor for the future, for promise. It’s no surprise that marketers these days talk the talk and want to walk the space walk.
What’s the upside? Certainly brands in space will generate lots of public relations, social media and earned media attention. On the flip side, outer space advertising campaigns and sponsorships will likely help fund privatized exploration and research. This would create a positive halo effect around participating brands, which could then accurately describe themselves as ground-breaking, forward thinking and pioneering; buzzwords that are routinely overused on Madison Ave. to the point of meaningless.
“For us, as an industry, we need to grasp the future,” a starstruck advertising creative director tells me. “It’s not a pipe dream. Clients will come to us to execute on this future for them. It is the next logical step for everything. And it is not enough to simply consider space a backdrop or billboard, launching brands to the heavens and filming them. We have to develop the potential for advertising people to become astronauts themselves, to become creators in outer space. We are pretty close, within the next ten years at least.”
Personally, I like this idea -- flying advertising people to the moon and beyond. I wonder if any “advernauts” would have the courage to sign up for Mars One, commit to a lifetime of oxygen tanks, spacesuit onesies and reduced gravity on the fourth stone from the sun. Paraphrasing Jimi Hendrix, I dare you, land your kinky machine.