Space: the final ad frontier

FROM THE MIND of yet another demented ad man comes the latest unearthly publicity idea: Pizza Hut has agreed to pay untold millions to plaster their new logo on a rocket ship. The Soviet rocket (yeah, that’ll give you confidence) will be blasted into outer space this month, along with a hunk of the International Space Station (read: US-funded).

This extraterrestrial commercial upsets me for more reasons than I am consciously aware, but most notably because the price of pizza just went up. As the cost of grabbing consumers’ attention soars ever higher, we all eat the price increases for products and services we’re not even sure we like. (How much do you think our insurance went up as a result of the Safeco Field naming rights?)

Space advertising is no joke—it’s the last frontier. Pizza Hut first explored placing their logo on the moon itself, but discovered the display would have had to be the size of Texas to be seen by earthlings. The company was not deterred by the notion of constructing a Texas-sized advertisement on a planet they don’t own; they simply didn’t want to spend that kind of money on a billboard (yet).

The technology currently exists to beam a stream of light from one satellite to another, creating a sort of “space banner” visible from the planet’s surface. A few years ago, Space Marketing Inc. introduced one of the most offensive advertising ploys ever created: mile-long advertising billboards that hover in the night sky about the size of a full moon. (Actually, that fucking Taco Bell chihuahua is the most offensive, but this was a close second). Their idea was shot down at the last minute by a citizens’ coalition called “Save Our Skies.” The issue, however, is far from dead; NASA is currently looking for ways to commercialize space and fund a Mars Mission.

A few years ago Pepsi paid $5 million to have cosmonauts float a giant can of pop outside the Mir Station (talk about space junk). If you think those damn biplanes lazily circling your yard with 1-800-CALL COLLECT banners are annoying, wait until stargazing gets replaced by a neon galaxy of soft-drink logos. You didn’t really think Teledesic was spending all that money for Internet access, did you?

The overbearing ad blitzkrieg isn’t only in “outer” space, of course; it’s also much closer to home. Aside from sponsorship banners cluttering every single concert and sporting event you will ever attend, corporations are buying up public spaces and places, including those for kids: Coke gave a million to a San Jose high school in return for naming their gym Coca-Cola Arena. Primary schools get uniforms from Nike. (It’s a sort of exchange program: Young athletes in our country are helping to keep elementary-age kids employed overseas.)

Give ’em an inch, they’ll take a milestone: British Airways just created the world’s largest Ferris wheel—the London Eye—as a “monument to the Millennium” and a really big place to slap their logo. “London Eye-Sore,” it should be called, as it blocks the view of Big Ben from the Thames. The City of San Francisco is now accepting money from companies who pay “tolls for a day” on the Golden Gate bridge. For this apparently charitable donation, the sponsor is allowed to put up a big-ass streamer across one of our great national treasures: “Texaco paid your toll today. Have a good day, and remember to keep on drivin’.” What’s next, adorning the Statue of Liberty with Levi’s for a day? Or worse: “Today’s elevator ride to the torch was sponsored by Stay-Free Maxi Pads—giving you the liberty to be free”?

We need to understand that the world is not Disneyland. We don’t have to use every square inch to hawk signage, access, and placement. And, if we do sell out, we should at least get some kickbacks. I’d scroll through a few more pages of banners for free Internet access. If someone wants to step up and sponsor my health insurance, I’m all ears, nose, and throat. (“This month’s health coverage was brought to you by Marlboro: Don’t worry, we’ve gotcha covered.”) In the public transit arena, the Microsoft Monorail also has a nice ring to it (monopoly, monorail, it’s all the same).

Maybe in the new millennium we’ll be able to direct exactly where our ad money goes. In that case, I’d like to keep the six dollars Pizza Hut is spending per capita for their new space-age campaign and use the money for something much more intimate and personal—to buy one of those really cool Jack-in-the-Box antenna balls for my car.