What Does Mars One mean for Advertising?

Having just broken the atmosphere the shuttle makes its final descent towards the red surface. 225 million kilometres away, the world watches, eyes glued to the nearest HD-LED-3D screen for the biggest moment in human history. The four pioneering men and women emerge from the pod. Red Bull logos emblazoned on their backs, the Nike swoosh stitched over their heart. The camera focuses on the leader of the company, a man whose helmet is colourfully tinted to resemble the Google Chrome logo. He is about to speak the first words on his new untarnished home, Mars. “This is one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind… and mmmmmm I’m lovin’ it!”

The Mars One mission aims to begin a colony on Mars in 2026, selecting and training willing participants from around the world for a one-way trip to the red rock. The mission will be almost entirely funded by advertising revenue and sponsorship. If it is successful Mars One will have beat NASA to sending people to Mars, no doubt an impressive feat.

But is it simply another tactless marketing stunt? Or is it opening the door for advertising to become more than just a way to sell pizza with a cheese stuffed crust? Could advertising be the key to forwarding humanity and solving our problems?

But before I get into answering that, let me quickly explain what Mars One is.

The Mars One founders describe their organisation as “a not for profit foundation with the goal of establishing a permanent human settlement on Mars”. After sifting through thousands of participants the Mars One team has selected 100 potential astronauts that will make the one-way journey to resettle on Mars. A final 24 volunteers will then receive specialised training in a range of areas that will help them survive on Mars. Starting in 2026, every two years a group of four volunteers will leave for Mars forever. If you are interested in learning more about the project, click here.

So now, back to the point.

Space exploration, due to its immense cost, has been exclusively government funded. This means that when national budgets are tight, research and development projects, like colonising Mars, can seem like expensive luxuries.

Many have been critical of the project, with claims that the whole operation is a complete hoax plaguing online forums like reddit. Yet this has not deterred thousands of donations and volunteers throwing their support behind this exciting project.

Jorge Vasquez, who made it to the second stage of the volunteer selection process, believes that the Mars One is the mission we have been wanting to see from government agencies like NASA.

“So far we have been sitting down watching and waiting to see what comes out next… Mars One will open a new avenue in risky exploration,” Mr Vasquez says. “We need to inspire kids to stop looking down at their iPads and start looking up into the stars.”

Dr. Leila Zucker, an ER Doctor at Howard University Hospital in Washington D.C and one of the final 100 applicants for the Mars One mission, is ecstatic about the opportunity and believes the time is now to travel to Mars.

“We are closer to the technology we need than the Apollo program was when it was begun. Yes, we need to develop the technology we have, but we do not require a “eureka” moment to get us there.” Dr. Zucker claims.

With people willing to go and the ability to create the technology to do it, the real problem is getting the money.

In order to raise the $6 Billion US needed for the mission, founders Bas Lansdorp and Arno Wielders aim to fund this project by turning the whole mission into a media event, drawing over $45 Billion US in revenue — the equivalent of 10 olympic games. Film the whole mission on Earth and Mars, sell the broadcasting rights and provide extensive advertising and sponsorship opportunities. That is the strategy, according to Mr Weilders.

“Big Brother will pale in comparison. The whole world will be watching and will experience this journey,” Mr Wielders claims in an introduction film.

The reception to this strategy has not been rosy.

While many have been critical of the ethics of sending people on such a dangerous mission, the funding strategy has also come under intense scrutiny. For some involved in traditional space organisations like NASA, the prospect of seeing advertising and sponsorship drive a mission to Mars undermines the seriousness of space exploration.

Retired and well-known Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield (check out his amazing Bowie cover), criticised the marketing strategy of the mission in an interview with journalist Elmo Keep.

“It’s not an entertainment event. We didn’t explore the world to entertain other people. We did it as a natural extension of human curiosity,” Hadfield told Keep.

Although Hadfield and many others are critical of the advertising based funding scheme, it could open the door for a new approach to important research and development projects in many other areas.

Dr Jennifer Beckett, a lecturer in Marketing Communications at The University of Melbourne, believes that advertising in these types of projects could be the way of the future.

“As traditional government funding pools have been drying up, for various economic and political reasons, the use of sponsorship is going to become more prevalent.” Dr Beckett Said.
“I think we’re seeing a huge increase in sponsorship or support of charitable organisations being used as a way of increasing brand value via demonstrated good corporate citizenship. Rather than revenue derived specifically from advertising I think that’s more where we’re headed.”
“But should we be doing this to make up the shortfall of government spending on research and development projects — my personal opinion is absolutely not.”

Mars One could mark a definitive change in how we see advertising, with it becoming more a useful tool than a catchy jingle.

Dr Beckett cites the Thank You brand as a prime example of using market based solutions to attack social issues like poverty or the provision of clean water. Thank You use the profits from sales of bottled water, food and body care products to fund charitable projects around the world. Like the Mars One mission, this project uses standard marketing strategies to do the work that our governments ‘can’t afford’.

Even Facebook, through their Internet.org endeavour to bring internet connection to the disconnected world, are trying to use marketing revenue to do some good, albeit a possible attempt to expand their potential user base. The marketing strategies that make us NEED the newest iPhone, have the capacity to fund ambitious products.

The most prominent of these strategies, which Mars One is attempting to utilise, is event based marketing.

In 2012 Red Bull made it possible for Felix Baumgartner to become the first person to break the sound barrier sans any artificial forces, with a multi world record breaking 39km skydive from the ‘edge of space’. This one off event attracted over 50 million viewers, while helping increase Red Bull’s sales by over 7% before broadcasting revenue is even taken into account.

Mars One essentially is taking the same approach. The difference with Mars One is that they aren’t selling energy drinks, they are colonising another planet.

Imagine the hype an event like Mars One could draw through the 10 year build up and intense final landing in relation to the success of Red Bull’s single, glorified base-jump.

The criticism of Mars One and its funding scheme is warranted. Who wouldn’t prefer to be starting a colony on Mars the right way, through organisations like NASA, rather than through a mission funded by McDonalds or Google. But it is not happening and at the moment, neither is anything else.

Australia’s foreign aid budget is now at its lowest level in history while only 1% of America’s budget goes to foreign aid. The aftermath of the financial crisis still echoes throughout the Western world as parliaments squabble over when and what to spend. Research and development projects never have a chance.

In just over 10 years time we could have landed the first humans on Mars. They may be covered head-to-toe in logos, but the achievement is essentially the same.

If successful, Mars One will not only bring humankind to Mars, it may also change the way we use and perceive advertising.

“Though my preference would be for an international effort, if it turns into a race to Mars between multiple government-supported and public-private-partnership space programs, then humanity wins,” claims Dr. Zucker.

Advertising is one of the most powerful tools of the modern era, and as irritating and pervasive as it may be, it could be extremely useful.

If we can end poverty, discover the perfect renewable energy system or find a cure to cancer, does it really matter if we did it through advertising, marketing and sponsorship rather than through united government spending.

In the end, as Dr. Zucker puts it, humanity wins.

Like what you read? Give Jack Kilbride a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.