Moon Marketing: innovative new media channel or just a PR stunt?

Will we see billboards on the moon in 2020?

As the race to the moon continues, a Japanese start-up has predicted we could see billboards on the moon as early as 2020.

Japanese company Ispace told Bloomberg that while a thriving lunar economy was still decades away, the initial business opportunities on the moon’s surface will be marketing-related with sponsored spacecraft and billboards.

Brands are no stranger to space-based marketing. From Red Bull’s Stratos project, which saw eight million people tune in to watch a man jump to earth from the edge of space, to Audi’s collaboration with German start-up Part-Time Scientists for the X Prize competition, which will see an Audi branded lunar rover travel to the moon and back next year.

Brands have been hoisting products into space for years. It started in the 1960s, when Omega put its watches on astronauts, hit new heights in the 1980s, when Coca-Cola and Pepsi developed space cans for astronauts, and, in recent years, there has been a flood of diverse brands including Kit Kat, Hyundai, Sony, Confused.com, Pizza Hut, Kodak, John Smiths and Porn Hub.

With the atmosphere well and truly conquered by brand marketers, does the moon represent an innovative new media channel for brands? Or, is it just another opportunity for public relations stunts?

“Economically, it seems to be a very interesting proposition to think about extra-terrestrial opportunities,” says Peter Petermann, chief strategy officer at MediaCom China.

“As it becomes cheaper and cheaper to send stuff into space, surely demand for orbital payloads will go up. As companies such as Google, Tencent, Amazon and Alibaba seek to bring the Internet to even the remotest parts of the planet the need for orbital communication satellites will grow exponentially. However, eventually, this demand will find its natural boundaries.

“The question of marketing in space, however, is an entirely different matter. With private space travel and commercial carriers, the moon is now closer than ever. I very much doubt that "lunar marketing" will ever be anything more than a stunt for only a very few select brands.”

Petermann believes there are a number of obstacles for brands looking to showcase their logos on the moon, including regulations against advertising in space, and a lack of benefits for a brand to be there, beyond the kudos of being the first brand on the moon.

“It may make sense for Audi to develop a rover and send it to the moon to demonstrate their "Vorsprung durch Technik" proposition, but there is absolutely no reason for a chewing gum or a shampoo to put up a billboard on the moon.

“The first billboard on the moon will generate attention and buzz, but not many people will care about the second one,” says Petermann.

Plus, the ROI will be terrible, he adds.

“While Red Bull reached a lot of people, the actual ROI of this marketing stunt was not all that great: the official cost of this jump was $30m - and about 5 years of planning - and the media coverage was worth about $30-$40m. In fact, the unofficial numbers are probably much worse," says Petermann.

“You definitely can get a better ROI by running TV ads. And again: the cost of taking a brand to the moon may be just bearable for a few first movers because of the media attention they will get. But for all the followers, it will definitely not be worth the money and the effort."

“While I am all for innovation and creativity, I don't think that it will make sense for more than a handful of brands to actually create lunar advertising, regardless of how many rockets may be going up in the near future. So, reach for the stars creatively, but stay on earth when it comes to your media channels."

However, Satoshi Chikayama, senior creative director at TBWA\HAKUHODO Japan, takes a more romantic view of the potential for Moon-based marketing.

“A few years ago, an acquaintance working in space technologies told me: "There's no indications of exploitable resources on the moon, so there is no pragmatic reason for mankind to continue exploring it". His words got me thinking… What about the centuries and centuries worth of human fascination with the moon? Isn't that a "resource" that can be mined?

“I think the new marketing space race is a clear indicator of this latent potential. The weight and legacy of so much civilisation, thought and wonderment at that silver orb in the sky will be with us as long as we are alive, and therefore is an immense opportunity for brands.”

Chikayama points to our age-old fascination with the moon, which plays a central role in many myths and folklore from cultures around the world.

“The moon has particular pertinence in Japanese folklore including the story of ‘Princess Kaguya’, a beautiful maiden who came from the moon, and our ‘Moon Watching’ festival in the fall every year, which is an ancient tradition that still continues to this day.

“The moon has always been imbued with a romanticism, as our closest gateway to the big, wide universe, so I do believe that any initial marketing opportunities leveraging the moon must take our centuries-old embellishment, and use it to maximum effect.

“Communication must be built and designed not only with practicality and pragmatism in mind, but made through stories and ideas that stir peoples’ hearts and minds...and let us dream big,” says Chikayama.

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