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The Marketing of Space


Companies eager to expand their market share are turning their attention to the sky and beyond. In the age of globalization, space is the final frontier for advertisers.

Few backdrops on Earth can match the limitless possibilities of space. And according to Valerie Neal, the curator for the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC, space may be the ultimate in product placement for advertisers.

"Anything that is flown in space has increased value. You can tell that from the collectors' market and the fact that museums collect objects that are flown in space,” says Ms. Neal. “So it could be a real marketing bonanza for manufacturers to be able to send products in space."

In 1985, soft drink makers Coca-Cola and Pepsi seized that opportunity when NASA approved an experiment to test the viability of carbonated drinks in space. Despite strict rules preventing the rival cola makers from exploiting the experiment -- called the Carbonated Beverage Dispenser Evaluation, or CBDE -- Neal says the first unofficial taste test in space became a marketing coup for both companies.

"They both were really not interested that much in providing soda to the astronauts. They were really interested in providing soda to the masses here on Earth,” says Neal. "And even with NASA strictures about advertising, each of them was now able to claim having been first in space."

In 2001, the marketing of space took a giant leap forward when Pizza Hut flew with the Russian Space Agency. For about a million dollars, the fast food company gained worldwide publicity and bragging rights as the first to deliver hot pizza in space.

Electronic retailer Radio Shack followed soon after and filmed a commercial aboard the International Space Station featuring a Russian cosmonaut opening a Father's Day present.

NASA has been reluctant to take part, but Neal says that could change. "NASA's rule has always been, ‘no product endorsements, generic entities only, and no commercial exploitation of flight on the shuttle.’ Whether that will change in the future, who knows? There's certainly continuing pressure."

Marketers say advertising could help fund scientific research if NASA relaxed its stance on product endorsements. NASA says it is working with the Bush administration to conduct an agency wide evaluation for a commercialization strategy in space.