As we enter a new space age, the once-final frontier is now open for all. As space travel becomes more accessible over the course of the next five years, it will be up to brands to act responsibly when it comes to all of the marketing firsts that are to follow, writes Brad Roth, president of the agency Known.
2021 has ushered in a second golden age of space travel, one where the final frontier is truly open for business. It’s the year Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson both made quick trips beyond Earth’s atmosphere, Inspiration4, the first all-civilian mission to space, launched and spent three days in orbit. Even William Shatner went to space, meaning he no longer has only “beamed up” on screen.
Inspiration4 made the idea of space travel for the regular person a tangible possibility. It has reinvigorated the public’s interest in what’s beyond Earth, precisely because people can now picture themselves in orbit. Space is no longer the purview of an elite few. It feels more accessible than ever and is what’s driving the cultural conversation. And wherever culture goes, so too do brands and advertising.
Outer space is no longer this abstract, sci-fi, Jetsons concept. It’s concrete and accessible and there's going to be an incredible momentum around it that will drive advertising. Space is pristine, undisturbed territory. It also represents a tabula rasa — a clean slate — for the advertising world.
If this year has made people realize they don’t have to be jet pilots, specimens of perfect health, or billionaires to leave Earth, what are the possibilities going to be in 2026?
As this final frontier opens itself up more, the next space race will be between brands for new opportunities to lead in the marketing race. Brands love the idea of being “first.” They want to be first to market. They love innovation, which is what space represents to so many people.
So many brands want their product to be a leader — not only in the specific business, but in an entire category. The ability to build, research and travel in space means that global brands will seek to become intergalactic brands. And what could be more desirable than being not just the number one brand in the world, but in the universe?
While this new environment provides infinite possibilities for advertising and marketing, I hope we avoid some of the pitfalls we’ve experienced on Earth. Does this mean the surface of Mars will eventually look like Times Square? Hopefully we can create a better version of marketing up there, but right now there are no rules, so who knows what the future may hold.
If we’ve learned anything from the recent spate of missions, advertisers beware: if you’re planning to do something in space, consumers are also insisting that your brand is doing something good and meaningful here on Earth. That terrestrial component is going to be essential to any successful space marketing plan.
One thing I believe about business in space in 2026 is that it will be a necessity, not a 'nice-to-have.' If all goes as planned, the US will return to the moon in 2024 as part of the Artemis Accord and fulfill its goal of having the first woman and first person of color set foot on the lunar surface.
Companies like Axiom are building commercial space stations that will allow all kinds of industries to take advantage of this unexplored terrain. People will work, live and play there. Businesses will develop products and services that were not possible on Earth. In an ideal universe, going to space will be like flying to Australia. It’s unclear how close we are to that becoming a reality, but the momentum is real, and this appears to be a significant transition point in history for space travel.
The biggest possibility for space in 2026 comes down to accessibility — ensuring that this final frontier is truly open and that brands can conceive of associating themselves with this vast opportunity. Space was at arm’s length for marketers and for brands for so long. Now, it feels like they can associate their brand story with the idea of innovation. It's our business to find those first-to-market opportunities and tell stories in new ways.
Brad Roth is partner and president of Known.
On Monday, October 18, at 1:30 ET, he’ll appear on a virtual panel for Advertising Week about space marketing and the democratization of space travel. Joining him are Elizabeth Gillan, Director of Marketing at Axiom Space, TIME Editor-at-Large Jeffrey Kluger, and Inspiration4 astronaut Dr. Sian “Leo” Proctor. ESPN host Jeremy Schaap will moderate.