Saturday, July 5, 2014

Marketing the Moon - David Meerman Scott and Richard Jurek

If only people knew what NASA was doing!  It's possible that this great institution was shut down with the 2011 retirement of the Space Shuttle.  The US public are quite likely to believe that their government doesn’t support the ongoing and planned missions to the moon, Mars and, to quote Buzz Lightyear "to infinity and Beyond!" But as much as Pixar creates dreams, so did NASA - in fact it was vital - for funding, for ongoing support beyond the term of a single government and through the Korean and Vietnamese wars, the Iraq conflict and every possible distraction. 

Scott and Jurek are not space historians.  They're but rocketeer-marketeers!  In
 Marketing the Moon, detail the propaganda of a young space agency eager to use their public affairs office and public relations strategy to sell the \Apollo program. This was, believe it or not,  fifty years ago, when NASA, racing the Soviets to the Moon was or at least became a national past time.  

Early in their book we're affronted by marketing jargon. “We show how NASA’s Public Affairs staff, operating with a limited budget, made the most of what they had by adopting a ‘brand journalism’ and ‘content marketing’ approach to educate the public through the press and broadcast media,” or so reads the intro.   “Brand journalism”? Oh dear.  Please no!  Fortunately, the book also is a treasure trove of ephemera about the moon, from earliest trips in the mind's eye by the likes of Jules Verne, etc to the actual trips and the ongoing legacy on their return.  

While NASA wanted to tell the story of Apollo, there were limits to what it would do, part fiscal and part philosophical. “We are not buying refreshments, we are not supplying free trips,” Scheer wrote in a memo from that era; NASA was not performing “flackery.” Yet there is plenty of this because when you think of it, you're asking the public to buy in to the greatest fantasy of the day.  A question conveniently left out is the conspiratorial narrations about moon landings inHollywood studios.  Our authors will not entertain any ideas that any hoax's in fact occurs.  Armstrong's walk really happened.  No doubts.  

My favourite chapters examine a variety of other aspects of communicating the Apollo missions to the public, from the use of live television on the Apollo missions and how the television networks covered the missions, to publicity efforts before and immediately after Apollo, the latter including a fifty-state tour of the Apollo 11 command module and lunar rock in 1970 and 1971. While not a comprehensive history, it certainly ticks off all the major events.

But not all this marketing went well.  Eventually the public became jaded, perhaps due to the associations with military marketing, which used similar phrases and delivery.  Television showed even this, including the tragic loss of a teacher in a shuttle launch.  Questions of trust and viability started to creep in.   So, we’d be on Mars today if NASA was better at marketing? Probably not.  Even during Apollo, the public’s interest in NASA’s lunar expeditions didn’t translate into support for NASA: as the authors acknowledge, public opinion polls throughout the 1960s indicated the majority of the public thought the nation was spending too much on space. Mixed with the turmoil of the day and a disinterest in bold space exploration plans Nixon, had NASA been able to create clear and widely accepted visions of space exploration after Apollo, it would have been one of the greatest marketing feats of all time.

Marketing the Moon is a fascinating look at the marketing of Man's first missions and a reminder that space exploration  do not sell themselves and that getting buy in to do this stuff really is rocket science!

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