NASA’s new frontier: Rockets as billboards?

September 12, 2018

Imagine its 2020, and NASA is about to launch its next robotic rover to Mars. But its name isn’t something simple like Curiosity or Sojourner. Instead, it’s the Michelin Tire Trailblazer, named for the company that bought the mission’s naming rights and the famous Michelin man is adorned on the side of the spacecraft.

Yes, that could be the future of advertising.

NASA Administrator Jim Birdenstine had directed the agency to consider selling naming rights to rockets and spacecraft and allowing its astronauts to appear in commercials and on cereal boxes.

In August, Jim told advisers that he is forming a new committee focused on figuring out how NASA can go commercial. The committee, headed by Maxar Technologies’ Mike Gold, will pursue ways NASA could work with advertisers to brand its spacecraft and rockets as well as investigate how astronauts might engage in endorsements and media opportunities — both on and off Earth.

“I’d like to see kids growing up, instead of maybe wanting to be like a professional sports star, I’d like to see them grow up wanting to be a NASA astronaut, or a NASA scientist,” he said. “I’d like to see, maybe one day, NASA astronauts on the cover of a cereal box, embedded into the American culture.”

M&M’s in space

It will be interesting to see if this takes place. Throughout all these years, NASA has steadfastly stayed away from endorsing any particular product or company — even going so far as to call the M&Ms astronauts gobble in space “candy-coated chocolates” out of fear of appearing to favour one brand of candy. Since its inception, NASA has been restricted from promoting or even appearing to promote commercial products or services.

The idea is in the early stages now and is being met with some skeptism. Former NASA official Lori Garver tweeted that U.S. companies have long sought similar exposure through NASA.

“We considered this in the ‘90s,” she said. “Nike would have paid hundreds of millions for swoosh on the shuttle tank. It was too controversial. Maybe it will work this time!”

Other countries do sell space. Pizza Hut paid to put a logo on a Russian rocket in 1999.

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