How Ogilvy Plans to Become the First Ad Agency in Outer Space

NYSA partnership explores 'new space economy'

A new subway print campaign resulting from Ogilvy’s pro-bono partnership with NYSA Ogilvy
Headshot of Patrick Coffee

“Most companies are outer space companies. They just don’t know it yet.”

That’s how Ogilvy & Mather New York account director Ben Levine explains his agency’s newfound fascination with all things happening beyond our own fragile atmosphere. It’s not just Elon Musk trying to colonize Mars: more businesses will soon enter the space space, and Ogilvy wants to help them get there as quickly as possible … if not quite faster than the speed of sound.

Earlier this year, Ogilvy worldwide CEO and chairman John Seifert laid out his vision of the organization’s “next chapter” amid a series of restructuring announcements. Levine and his team saw this as a call to explore employees’ passions and “go after a type of client that we normally wouldn’t in a growing industry.”

As Levine explains it, the space race started in an internal Slack group “filled with cosmic GIFs and puns” that became “a groundswell” when employees from New York, Kuala Lumpur, Belgium and Brazil began sharing links and ideas for pet projects.

“The idea that we are going to be sending people into space and living there provides great fodder for creative work and makes us think differently,” Levine said. “It’s not just beneficial to the people we now work with but also to many potential clients.”

So Ogilvy sees this sort of effort not just as a community exercise but as a future source for new business.

Levine and his fellow space enthusiasts later attended a conference where they met the founders of the New York Space Alliance, which describes itself as “a public benefit corporation empowering entrepreneurs in the global space economy.” Ogilvy then developed a pro-bono partnership with NYSA, developing a new visual identity, online presence and subway print campaign (see above) for the “astropreneurship” organization. It will also be working with businesses in the group’s accelerator program.

“The catalyst for this was the worldwide leadership meeting in April,” Seifert told Adweek in describing an event that included 40 leaders from Ogilvy offices around the world, along with several young and promising staffers. “One exercise was to really step back and ask ourselves: what would motivate next generation leaders in the company … to be a vital part of Ogilvy’s next chapter?”

As Seifert tells it, consensus held that younger employees wanted to work on projects “with the purpose of making brands matter in the world, but also projects you would find irresistible, whether paid or not.”

He compared this approach to Google’s famous (and now former) “20 percent rule” that allowed employees to spend the equivalent of one day each week on passion projects. He also argued that it will help Ogilvy staff break from a longstanding, all-consuming focus on new business pitches and CPG clients, adding, “Traditional models are getting killed right now.”

Today, for example, the agency will open its New York office to a lineup of NYSA space enthusiasts for an evening panel discussion regarding the “new space economy” and its ability to address some of mankind’s most pressing problems.

“There can be no bigger challenge than branding space,” said Seifert, predicting that the combination of entrepreneurs, tech companies and more familiar businesses gradually moving into this new, still theoretical economy will influence Ogilvy’s portfolio in the years to come.

“Based on our early investment, [clients] seem to recognize that great narratives and storytelling to make the science and tech understandable … require the tried and true skills of communicators,” Seifert explained.

Or, as Levine put it, “Outer space is the literal final frontier of marketing communications.”

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.