Shooting for the Moon? Make Sure Your Space Marketing Is Well-Grounded

How Space Stunts Are Paying Off for Brands by Keeping Content Alive

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Red Bull's Stratos space jump
Red Bull's Stratos space jump

Since space travel first launched, people have dreamed of walking, exploring and, yes, advertising on the moon. The science fiction novelists imagined it first, with Heinlein's famous "The Man Who Sold the Moon" (1951), and today's marketers -- buoyed by a wave of space entrepreneurs -- are looking at the moon and beyond as the next frontier of advertising.

But before you start spending beyond the stratosphere -- both literally and figuratively -- it's important to recognize that not all marketing moonshots are creative equals. A bold mission is only truly successful when the journey eclipses the stunt to live on in your day-to-day, on-the-ground marketing.

Space as a stunt

The whole future of space marketing almost got left on the launch pad because of marketers' fixation on gimmicks first and the big picture second. For the 1996 Olympics, Space Marketing planned to promote the Games via a mile-wide low-orbit billboard. Advertising Age's own Rance Crain called it "a constellation-size black eye for the ad industry," and others shared his opinion. Eventually, Congress banned obtrusive space advertising, limiting extra-terrestrial marketing to mere sponsorships.

More recently, Japan's Otsuka announced plans to send a 1-kilogram titanium tin of its powdered Pocari Sweat drink on the first private moon-landing mission, planned for October. The goal: inspire a generation of future astronauts -- and build orbital levels of brand equity. Yet how effective will Otsuka's stunt prove? Not very, most likely. For one thing, there's a drink lots of folks already associate with space -- Tang -- and for another, Otsuka is teaming up with debris clean-up specialists Astrobotic Technology. Hard to see how becoming a pioneer in lunar litter -- even if you plan to pick up after yourself -- does anything but add to space marketing's questionable rap.

The cosmos as canvas

So how can brands thrive in the final frontier? Hyundai's "A Message to Space" viral video has a lot to teach. In it, stunt drivers in a fleet of high-tech Hyundai Genesis sedans carve a daughter's message of love into a dry lakebed -- just in time for her astronaut father to see it in orbit from the International Space Station. The spot earned a Guinness World Record and over 30 million views on YouTube, and it did so for a reason all space marketers should note: It tapped into an emotional drama at the heart of all exploration and amplified it. What if your father's research took him not just to another city or country, but off your planet?

Truly, this spot is great heavyweight content, and Hyundai complements it well with sharable, digital middleweight storytelling on its supporting site, with detailed behind-the-scenes footage, GPS coordinates and satellite footage, message contests and more. Hyandai continues to drive the story through lightweight social content. The result -- Hyundai further engages its audience in the space story on multiple fronts, deepening their connection with the brand and its stylish Genesis line of cars.

Red Bull's space jump

If Hyundai is "Star Trek," Red Bull is "The Next Generation." Nothing comes close to Red Bull's Stratos stunt -- a free-fall jump from 24 miles above the earth by skydiver Felix Baumgartner, which generated 52 million live webcast views for Red Bull. In the six months immediately following Stratos, Red Bull sales rose 7% to $1.6 billion in the U.S., according to research firm IRI. Now that's out-of-this-world success.

Better yet, the Stratos jump lives on in the popular mind, because it's an ideal amplification of Red Bull's day-to-day owned media ecosystem.

Start with Red Bulletin, an online and print magazine with pitch-perfect content aimed at an adventure-seeking male audience. Then move on to Red Bull Music Academy, with its global workshops and dedicated online magazine, radio station and video archive. Finally, don't forget Redbull.tv and Redbull.us, each with its own breadth of sports, music and lifestyle articles.

In the words of research firm Altimeter Group, Red Bull utilizes "content to its maximum potential in both revenue generation and impact on global culture."

So how should a brand decide when and whether to commit to a moonshot? Well, it's clear an imaginative, high-octane and -- dare we say it, orbital -- stunt has the power to put your brand and product instantly in front of millions, and make a lasting emotional connection. Yet such a heavyweight performance will likely come up short if it's a one-off.

Instead, a great outer-space stunt needs to be intrinsic to your brand's identity, and sustained through daily engagement and conversation driven by great content, distributed through all channels and touchpoints. Before making such a move in today's 24x7 media world, brands need to think hard about the price of just simply shooting for the moon.

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