July 20 marks 25 years since man first set foot on the moon, and most major marketers are passing up the chance to tie into the event.
Many promotion executives believe the anniversary of astronaut Neil Armstrong's 1969 step onto the moon is an ideal marketing opportunity that will draw intense media attention and is of high interest to consumers of all ages.
But they say most marketers are remaining earthbound due to a lack of planning, and poor coordination and execution of efforts. Another reason is that promotions tied to the last milestone in exploration-Christopher Columbus' first trip to the New World in 1492-generally fell flat.
"Most companies are blowing it. If an athletic shoe marketer did the right thing here, it would be a brilliant advertising opportunity, but very few companies are making the right moves," said John Korff, president of Korff Enterprises, a Mahwah, N.J.-based event marketing consultancy. "This was the coolest, hippest thing to happen in the 1960s, which happens to be a hot nostalgic era for people right now. It's a win-win opportunity for marketers who could do it right."
The lack of coordinated tie-ins to the moon walk stems from confusion about how to handle events in the public domain, promotion executives say.
"It's a great event, but it's hard to coordinate something that is in the public domain," said Rob Stone, president of the Meridian Group, Fort Lee, N.J., which had sought to be the licensing agent for the anniversary. The agency abandoned plans when NASA made its logo and film footage available to anyone.
Recalling what happened a couple of years ago, "A lot of companies got burned in trying to market around the 500th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in America in 1992, and there's been a lot of confusion about how to develop marketing programs around such general events," said Howard Freeman, president of Promo 1, an event marketing company in New York.
The key, he said, is to develop a strong promotion that drives sales or brand awareness on its own in conjunction with the event, rather than "tagging along" with the event for marketing purposes.
Most of the tie-ins to the Apollo 11 landing are regional, without significant national advertising. The events range from a "Lunar Rendezvous Festival" in Houston to lunar buggy races in Huntsville, Ala.
NASA's Space Center Houston is using the event to target tourists with print ads in regional publications. The ads, in Texas Monthly this month and next, promote "Celebration 25," including tours of Johnson Space Center, a laser light show and Lego Systems' traveling exhibit of man's space travel. The Dallas-based Richards Group, former agency of the space center, created the ads.
Among the few large companies to tie in are Boeing Co., Hallmark Cards, R.H. Macy & Co. and Coca-Cola Co.
Boeing will air a 60-second spot TV commercial in Washington and Houston next month saluting NASA. Print will run in other markets that include a large number of NASA employees, including Cocoa Beach, Fla., and Huntsville. Cole & Weber, Seattle, handles.
Space-related ads are nothing new to Boeing. For two years, it has been running general space-theme ads inspired by U.S. space exploration efforts.
Hallmark on July 16 will unveil a commemorative Keepsake holiday tree ornament replicating Mr. Armstrong, and Macy's is featuring a silk tie with a moon rock design. No major ad support is planned.
Promotion executives flagged beverages as an ideal category for tie-ins to the event, but few are participating.
Coca-Cola will offer commemorative "Man on the Moon" Coke bottles at Kroger Co. supermarkets only in Texas. And Snapple Beverage Corp. just happens to be running a 30-second TV spot featuring Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, explaining to a letter writer why Snapple isn't available on the space shuttle. Kirshenbaum & Bond, New York, handles. Mr. Aldrin appeared in several Macy's stores to promote the moon rock tie.
The moon walk inspires a print ad that Bacardi Imports will break in July newsweeklies. The rum ad from Lintas, New York, features a whimsical illustration of an astronaut on the moon wearing scuba-diving fins, under the headline, "Just add Bacardi."
NASA has made its logo commemorating the 25th anniversary generally available to manufacturers, which are producing T-shirts, caps, coffee cups, patches, pins and watches, a NASA spokesman said.