The journey of ads

Advertising has changed a lot since the days of T.V. commercials, newspaper ads, and billboards. Even online banner ads are becoming a thing of the past. Although these advertisements still exist, it’s no secret that other forms of advertising are taking over. For example, sponsorships are becoming more and more prevalent in the sporting industry as well as among the community of online influencers thanks to this new era of consumerism. In addition, the likes of social media advertising and mobile commerce are continuing to accelerate as a result of the rise of smartphones.

It could be said that humans have exhausted every possible avenue when it comes to advertising; for now at least. But what if the sky isn’t the limit to where advertising could potentially reach? It may be a strange and possibly silly concept to think about. I mean, could space advertising really be a legitimate revenue source for brands? But when we examine the acceleration of space exploration in recent years, spurred on by the likes of SpaceX, it doesn’t seem so far-fetched at all. If we really think about it, is it possible that the moon landing was a massively missed advertising opportunity?

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While space advertising likely won’t be in our sights anytime soon, we are living in a new age of capitalism that is forcing us to look forward towards the future for new ideas and solutions rather than behind us at what has worked in the past. While it may seem as though space advertising is a brand new idea that is ahead of its time, any future advertising venture carried out in space won’t actually be the first.

NASA’s restrictive policy on advertising

It’s worth noting that due to the fact that NASA is a government agency, it has a restrictive policy when it comes to advertising as government employees are not permitted to endorse any products. The permanence of space advertising, such as the launch of reflective billboards on satellites means that the ads can’t be taken down. This is a stark contrast to the shelf life of traditional ads, including online and T.V. ads as they can easily be switched off or removed.

As a result, the U.S. banned space advertising once the proposed Space Billboard project by Space Marketing Inc. was introduced. The law has since been amended to only prohibit obtrusive advertising, but space advertising in the U.S. is nevertheless still heavily restricted. Because of these restrictions, space advertising might take a while before it fully launches.

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Examples of space advertising

M&Ms:

Despite these restrictions, there have been elements of space advertising that have occurred. For example, since the beginning of the Space Shuttle program, astronauts have been receiving M&Ms from NASA. In order to avoid any endorsements or product placement, they simply called them candy-coated chocolates. While their name changed, the candies still had their trademark M on one side. On the reverse side, however, they were decorated with either an image of the shuttle orbiter, the phrase “3...2...1… lift off!”, or the date of the launch.

Coca-Cola and Pepsi:

While not exactly advertising, in 1985, both Coca-Cola and Pepsi did create special cans that could dispense their drinks in microgravity for astronauts. NASA decided to allow their astronauts to test the special cans but were reluctant to publicize it.

Pizza Hut:

It’s not just NASA that have dabbled in space advertising. In 2001, Pizza Hut reportedly paid Russia $1 million to display their logo on one of their Proton Rockets. This included promotional footage of Usachov giving a thumbs-up after eating a pizza. So selling ad space on rockets to display logos is another way in which advertisers could promote their brand and their products.

Tokyo Broadcasting System:

In 1990, the Tokyo Broadcasting System sent journalist Toyohiro Akiyama into space after paying $10 million to the Russian space agency. The payment allowed the company to display their logo on the launch vehicle, the Soyuz TM-11. This triggered major publicity as Akiyama became the first journalist to go into orbit. As a result, Sony Unicharm, and Otsuka Pharmaceutical sensed an opportunity to also display their logos on the spacecraft.

In addition to these examples, there have been a few more brands taking advantage of space advertising, including Israeli milk and dairy company, Tnuva, which produced the first television commercial shot in space, as well as the Red Bull Stratos team which organized the highly publicized Space Jump back in 2012.

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The future of space advertising

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine has said that he is forming a committee that will focus on a commercial strategy for NASA and will be headed by Mike Gold from Maxar Technologies. Additionally, NASA is currently working with SpaceX and Boeing both of which will have their logos displayed on the vehicles that will transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station as well as the rockets that will launch them into space. This is a significant step for NASA as for many years commercial logos wouldn’t be found on their spacecraft.

So, will we see logos in space? Only time will tell, but it would appear that NASA is heading in that direction. According to The Science and Technology Policy Institute, an estimated $100 million in revenue could be generated if a commercial space station were to conduct promotions and advertising. If the heavy restrictions NASA has in place are lifted or even modified, we could see a whole new revenue stream for brands sometime soon.

Mike Gold of Maxar Technologies says it best:

Capitalism works really well here on Earth. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be embracing it in [space].”