Mars One won't happen – but don't let the facts get in the way of a good story

Mark Borkowski is founder and head of Borkowski PR. You can find him on Twitter @MarkBorkowski

I recently ran a workshop for a client. It was structured to examine storytelling and the capability to work within the rules of the Now Economy. The central thought was this: “Is telling the truth is no longer as important as making it interesting?” Should you let the facts get in the way of a good story or is the story more interesting than the truth?

A space oddity? A mock-up of how the hopefuls will enjoy life on mars

Fast forward then to this morning’s headlines and media conversation on and offline. In my opinion we are witnessing the effects of a great publicity stunt to launch a TV format in which it is said 40 human lab rats and fame junkies will journey to Mars. It’s like a warped B-movie sci-fi plot! Goodbye real world and welcome to Huxley’s world of fabulous new tomorrows!

It is never going to happen. Nobody will get to Mars, and there I have said it. Sorry folks, this isn’t a legacy issue – you’ve just bought then hype.

A while back we researched the idea of getting a client Ben Saunders – a famous explorer best known for leading the first ever return journey to the South Pole on foot via Shackleton and Scott's route – to the moon to do an epic walk. We enlisted Will Whitehorn, the undisputed expert in the field, to examine logistics. I asked him if he agreed with my thesis that the Mars TV plot was an elaborate ploy to sucker the media. This is what he said:

"Well I thought that if the Russians built a new Soyuz mission you might hitch a ride for $400-500m but they can't now, given the oil price and sanctions. If the Chinese would take anyone in 2020 that might be the cost for a seat but they wouldn't do it. To go it yourselves and commission Elon Musk or a similar commercial operator to build something landable and returnable would be $3.5bn at least, and probably more even with his new technology. This idea is not even vaguely realistic."

Every journalist knows there is a type of story that is 'too good to check'. An old tabloid hack when covering his steps regarding a half-truth – which severely wounded one of my clients back in the day – excused the lie by saying the story was true at the time. I have always said that some stories are more interesting than the truth. But there is a health warning on tales that beg to be true but probably aren’t. In the pre-social media era, an incorrect story, and sometimes an outright lie, might have sat hidden in plain sight for months or even years.

I suggest the Mars idea is a glorious fabrication which is seeding a more mundane end resolution: a reality show grounded in a warehouse in an industrial estate in Slough. I for one applaud the audacity but check the bath waters for babies. But who cares if we are experiencing the idea in our head? The theatre of our minds will happily take over! But what happens when we feel let down at the continued peddling of an inaccurate story? This is when reputations risk damage.

Entertainment behemoths require fame-obsessed cannon fodder to make the stock price targets, so my heart goes out to those suckered into a belief that fame is worthy of their engagement and participation. Hopefully the scam has an escape exit to save everyone and keep the looping narrative on track.

Mark Borkowski is the founder of Borkowski.do. He tweets @MarkBorkowski

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