The use of space imagery in ad campaigns is on the rise. In some ways it’s a blast from the past, recalling the 1960s space race when Tang pitched itself as the drink of astronauts and watchmaker Omega touted its ties to NASA. (In 1970, astronaut Jack Swigert’s Omega Speedmaster was used aboard Apollo 13 to time a critical maneuver that helped the disabled spacecraft return to Earth.)
Today’s marketers are far more sophisticated. But despite better technology and edgier ideas, the basic dynamic hasn’t changed. “Space captivates the imagination,” says Wesley Hawes, creative director at BBH London, which crafted Axe’s “Nothing Beats an Astronaut” effort. “Being able to bottle that fascination and use it in an ad campaign can be tremendously effective.”
Here’s a countdown of current and recent work that defines advertising’s second space age.
A dad drives down lonely roads at night while his young son sits in back. Vintage NASA audio about shooting for the moon, and the satellite itself, looming unnaturally large in a spectral sky, establish a mood deepened by Ulrich Schnauss's ethereal "Stars" on the soundtrack. "A funny thing happens when you shoot for the moon," says the voiceover. "You get there."
Google, “To the Moon”
The search giant celebrated Teacher Appreciation Week in May by thanking "every teacher on Earth" for inspiring students to discover new worlds. Ostensibly narrated by a teacher, who says, "When I was a little girl, all I wanted to do was go to the moon," the spot explores how she might just help some of her students get there one day.
Rovio’s Angry Birds Space, “NASA Announcement”
The first game announcement and gameplay footage from orbit, heralding Rovio's collaboration with the U.S. space agency. International Space Station astronaut Don Pettit is the star of the 4-minute clip which has gotten more than 28 million YouTube views since its debut two years ago.
AT&T, “Up & Up”
Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" provides the soundtrack to this moody, poignant and visually engrossing BBDO commercial starring snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler. It's gold-medal calibre work, fitting for a spot touting the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games.
Lurpak, “Adventure Awaits”
Set to the 2001: A Space Odyssey theme, Wieden + Kennedy London’s spacey stir-fry transforms dinner fixings into extraterrestrial terrain, while skillets and saucepans become doors to another dimension. (And it’s an ad for butter!)
Kia, “Space Babies”
On the surface, it’s 60 seconds of overblown galactic silliness, with a dad telling his son the story of a planet where babies, human and otherwise, prepare for their trip to Earth. A playful sense of wonder subtly suggests the link between humankind and the stars. “Only a fraction of the universe has been charted,” says David&Goliath group cd Ben Purcell. “For all we know, Babylandia might actually exist.
Axe, “Nothing Beats an Astronaut”
Spacemen clad in full bubble-helmet-and-pressure-suit regalia “out-sexy” studly lifeguards, firefighters and other male earthlings. This updates the ’60s aesthetic, complete with (tongue-in-cheek) macho sexism, recalling the days when the media transformed NASA astronauts into gods and superheroes riding rocket-propelled phallic symbols to the stars.
9/11 Memorial Museum, “History Remembered”
Stunning International Space Station footage of smoke shrouding lower Manhattan when the Twin Towers fell, along with commentary from that day by ISS astronaut Frank Culbertson, add up to a powerful statement. “The video has a way of pulling you in,” says Tom Kraemer, senior cd at BBDO New York. “The viewer is forced to step back and view this unfathomable event from an almost other-worldly vantage point.”
Virgin Galactic, “Your Journey to Space Starts Here”
Richard Branson’s spaceliner goes full-on epic with a three-minute film touting its tourism project. It’s an intriguing mix of Hollywood hype and history that succeeds at tying the new venture to missions of the past. Bold blockbuster music cues and impressive CGI effects are balanced by archival footage and audio. Most stirring is the clip of John F. Kennedy’s famous “We choose to go to the moon” speech from 1962, in which he vowed that America would make a lunar landing before decade’s end.
Red Bull, “Stratos”
On Oct. 14, 2012, Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner generated buzz of galactic proportions by leaping 24 miles to Earth from a balloon in the stratosphere. YouTube’s live stream of the event generated 8 million concurrent views, and the “Mission History” clip is nearing 37 million views all told. “The stunt perfectly matched the brand’s rebellious, adventurous persona, and had the added value of actually helping to push the limits of human achievement,” Adweek’s Tim Nudd wrote at the time. Baumgartner’s jump magnificently fused media and space, combining a legitimate mission with outrageous brand appeal. However briefly, he put a face on the new space age.