Thanks to television and brilliant marketing, we can't help but associate Pepsi with Britney Spears and youthful exuberance. Likewise, athletic gear with a certain swoosh reflexively conjures up the athletic prowess of Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan. But what does the international space station bring to mind? The European Space Agency (ESA) isn't sure, so they've hired an ad company to help them build an image--and hopefully drum up business for their share of the $100 billion station.
Previous attempts to generate a public buzz for space exploration have been limited to gimmicky stunts like pizza delivery to space and a failed plan to launch pop star Lance Bass into orbit. ESA hopes for more of a champagne-and-caviar approach, but they admit they're at a loss to say what that might look like. Perhaps that's why the agency announced last week that it has hired Ogilvy Brand Relations of Brussels, a company that has done ads for the likes of American Express and IBM. "We're not heading down the route of slapping 'Pizza Hut' on the side of a rocket," says Ogilvy spokesperson Nicholas Lunt.
ESA represents 10 of the 15 nations sponsoring the space station, which has been in operation for 2 years and now houses three astronauts. The agency hopes to make the station look attractive to research companies, which would pay to do experiments on the station. For example, the station will allow biotechnology and materials companies to study molecular forces without interference from gravity, says ESA spokesperson Maurizio Berlingheri.
But ESA dreams of an even bigger market: Down-to-earth companies might want to pay just to associate themselves with the station, if it has the right reputation. Ogilvy's Lunt says the closest analogy is to a Formula One racecar, which bears endorsements that have nothing to do with racing. So far there are no specific campaigns in the works, but Lunt says ESA will target companies that share the same "brand values" as the station.
The agency's first job, he concedes, will be to figure out what those values are: "At the moment, we don't know what the brand values of the international space station are in the eyes of the consumer."