Space - the final frontier for advertising

From a speech by Nasa's commercial development director, Daniel Tan, to the International Advertising Association's 37th World Congress
Click to follow
The Independent Online

When I was contacted to speak here, I was a bit surprised: space and advertising are not Jack and Jill, or strawberry and cream. Nasa and advertising are total strangers.

When I was contacted to speak here, I was a bit surprised: space and advertising are not Jack and Jill, or strawberry and cream. Nasa and advertising are total strangers.

But the more I think about it, the more I realise that what we do at Nasa may have tremendous impact on both what and how people communicate. Any time you have technology and people, products and consumers will follow. And when there are goods and services, advertising plays a major role.

Space communications is nothing new. Continuing advances in telecommunication technologies guarantee that space will be even more important in serving our global communication needs. Space advertising, on the other hand, is rather rare.

The Greeks and the Romans made advertising by shouting about their products. As early as the 3rd century before Christ, stone or terracotta billboards were used in Egypt for public announcements. Advertising became a profitable business with the invention of printing, especially the introduction of printed newspapers in the 17th century. Soon thereafter, we had branding, account executives and advertising agencies.

The recovery after the world wars had significant influence on advertising. Mass production and mass consuming led to mass communication. At this time advertising became an unmistakable link in the economic process. Specialised magazines were created, new media were discovered.

Today those new media, such as print, billboard, radio and television, have become traditional media, and are being succeeded by CDs, the internet, and others. Advertising is no longer simply a profession of creative people but has become also a profession of economists, psychologists, sociologists, and technologists.

Which brings us back to space. Ever since 4 October 1957, when Sputnik sent back its first signal, people everywhere started to dream up ideas of making money from space activities.

In fact, with the exception of telecommunications, we have not had many successes with the commercial use of space. With the end of the Cold War, aerospace downsizing has claimed many victims. We have also found that consolidation in a shrinking market doesn't work.

Some of us appropriately called overhead cost a burden. Consolidation has done little to change the task as we just add burdens to the business. The only thing that counts for the financial world is sustained growth. And we have not had that in space business for the past dozen years.

If advertising got that quantum jump at the end of the world wars, space advertising got pushed back quite a bit with the end of the Cold War. If space advertising is to get the attention of the financial markets, from London to Tokyo to New York, we need to somehow bring along mass production and mass consuming in space. And in order to do that, we need human presence in space. Lots of it.

We want to bring more players into the space businesses. We want new investors, customers, users, and suppliers. As we increase the market for space, the private sector can then take over lots of the things we do and make profitable businesses out of them.

We don't want to be the only customer. We want to be able to let market forces determine the supply, demand, quality and pricing, so that we can buy the goods and services just like anyone else.

We would like to turn over the keys of all our low-earth-orbit assets, including our space station and space shuttle, to the private sector. We want to see a flourishing commercial space business. But this is only the beginning. We are working on the possibility of joint collaboration with the private sector to conduct space research and exploration: the development of a habitation module, or living quarters for Nasa and commercial use. Another example is to send robotics to the Moon and Mars for science and entertainment purposes.

There is risk in space. We also know that human presence in space is inevitable. Working and living in space will become a common experience for lots of us. I look forward to the day that we together will bring more space to people, and more people to space.