Sponsorship that is out of this World
Last week NASA made international headlines with the announcement that they have found water on Mars. People rapidly shared the story via social media proving that significant space discoveries have the ability to capture the public’s attention.
From blockbuster movies, to celebrity scientists, to an astronaut with a record deal, there is a strong interest in outer space. Since Neil Armstrong's historic first steps on the moon in 1969 (an event watched by 93% of United States TVs), government funding for NASA has decreased. This decrease in public support has led to opportunities for the private sector to get involved.
If this trend continues, it is foreseeable that when the first astronaut sets foot on Mars, they may be stepping off a branded space ship and making the walk in a space suit complete with brand logos. While this possible reality may be a number of years away, there are a number of reasons for brands to invest in space related properties today.
The Appeal of Space to Brands
After taking a closer look at the rise in interest in science, it becomes clear as to why brands would find it valuable to invest in space related properties.
Renewed Youth Interest- Science has found renewed popularity amongst youth and is a popular school subject. A 2011 study conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research a UK based organization, examined students aged 14-18 and their views on science. Results shows that a 56% of students enjoyed studying science, or certain elements of it. It is also predicted that 60% of new jobs available in this century will be in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields, however only 20% of the workforce will be equipped for those jobs. This has given STEM fields renewed interest in young people looking to find a steady job.
The Crossover of Pop Culture and Science- It is now commonplace to see scientists like Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson appear on late night talk shows. Neil deGrasse Tyson has even hosted his own show on Fox called Cosmos, which attracted 8 million viewers for its premiere episode. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield captured the attention of millions of people on earth during his time on the International Space Station. He kept active on social media and currently has over 1,400,000 followers and has even released his own album. There has also been a number of highly successful blockbuster movies about space, movies like Interstellar, Gravity have won a number of academy awards and most recently The Martian has been highly successful at the box office.
Ways to Align with Space
Compared to sports, where a brand can invest in established properties like a team or league, investing in space can be a more abstract idea. Red Bull provides an example of a brand that has played to the space theme when they created Red Bull Stratos. In 2012 Red Bull had daredevil Felix Baumgartner skydive from the edge of the stratosphere in an event watched by millions. However, there have been a number of other examples where brands have associated themselves with space through sponsorship.
Inspire the Next Generation of Scientists- Popular toy brand Lego has had a partnership with NASA since 2010 and have collaborated on a variety of initiatives and contests. In 2011 when NASA launched a probe destined for Jupiter, Lego placed a specially designed Lego figures to join in on the trip. Lego promoted this an effort to “increase awareness of the space program for children, and get them interested.” Lego and NASA have also hosted competitions for children to design future space craft’s using Lego. Lego has been known as a brand for the those who are creative and imaginative, and their partnership with NASA helps to reinforce those attributes.
Movie Product Placement- In the newly released movie The Martian, which is set twenty years in the future, director Ridley Scott wanted to create a world where astronauts were as well-known as actors and athletes. To best demonstrate this idea, he decided that astronauts like actors and athletes should have sponsorship agreements. He recruited Under Armour (MKTG Client) and created a fake commercial featuring Matt Damon’s character, astronaut Mark Watney, and promoted Under Armour as the “Official Training Partner of the Ares Space Program”. This commercial helped communicate to the audience how Ridley Scott wanted astronauts to be viewed in his movie and Under Armour was able to promote their products as being fit for space.
Support the Pursuit of Space Exploration- Brands who offer their support of space exploration, especially in a time when NASA is under budget restrictions, can position themselves as a solutions provider. The X Prize foundation is currently running a competition sponsored by Google calling on privately funded teams to launch, land, and operate a lunar rover. This past July, car manufacturer Audi lent their assistance to the competition by partnering with the German team. Audi is assisting the team by providing their knowledge on all-wheel drive technology, lightweight construction, electric mobility, and piloted driving which can be utilized in the construction of the lunar rover. Through Audi’s assistance, they are able to be seen as a product innovator and demonstrate the value of their technology. In future marketing initiatives they will be able to promote their technology as being fit for space, a true test of product quality.
As mentioned above, brands investing in space can leverage their involvement to demonstrate product benefits or promote the value they provide to science among other benefits. However, there are also a few considerations that must be considered before a brand invests in a space related property.
Inconsistent Peak Awareness Moments- Brands look to gain significant value from their sponsorships around peak awareness moments. Sponsors of an NHL team can activate around 82 games a year and are guaranteed significant awareness on game nights. However, while notable space discoveries do provide peak awareness moments they are rare and difficult to plan around. With no firm set dates, sponsors must determine how to maintain their associations with space and find ways to manufacture high profile moments.
Significant Investment- For brands to be authentically involved in space they need to make significant investments in addition to their sponsorship commitment. For the Google X Prize competition, Audi is lending more than their financial support to the German team, they are also offering their technology and know-how. It is also a significant time investment as this competition has been going on for over seven years with no end date set.
High Risk- As more corporate brands are investing into space travel, they begin to assume a certain amount of risk. Space travel is still dangerous and if brands begin attaching their names to manned space missions they must understand the risk associated.
Brands investing in a space related property can be provided with a number of unique benefits. And as technology continues to advance, new ways can be discovered to take sponsorship out of this world.