Watching Major Tim Peake’s spacewalk the other day was fascinating, for lots of different reasons. But as branding experts, there was something that made it especially interesting. Amongst other tasks, he was laying cables for a new docking system that will be used for ‘future commercial crew flights and resupplies’ (taken from the mission’s official website). This suddenly makes the long-talked about dawn of commercial space travel seem a lot closer. And where there is commerce, there will be brands.
Now in terms of human history, brands have populated the earth for a relatively short period of time. But they’ve certainly grown up fast. Everyday life, for many of us, is spent continually in their company. And for every brand we actively use, there are often a crowd of competitors trying to get our attention.
Luxury brands exist to actively stand out from this crowd: to find the exclusive area that exists in between the noise and fill it with quiet authority. And nowhere is more exclusive (or quiet) than space. Meaning we might be close to a time when luxury brands have to seriously consider whether or not they have a space strategy.
With this in mind, we put our astro hats on and looked into the history of brands in space. It seems Omega can probably claim to be the first. First worn in 1962 by US astronaut Walter Schirra, the watch manufacturer went on to be worn by both Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong when they took their first steps on the moon in 1969.
Since then lots of brands, including Pepsi, Coca Cola, John Smith’s, KitKat, Specsavers, Robinson Squash and Confused.com have all launched products and mascots into the far reaches of the earth’s atmosphere. Yet all their efforts seem gimmicky and unconnected – not part of any forward-thinking strategy. Red Bull’s gripping stratos jump in 2012 aside, it makes for unimpressive reading.
Of course, these are everyday brands. So perhaps luxury brands have fared better?
Well, aside from Japanese whisky brand Suntory’s efforts, which involved sending bottles of their 10, 18 and 21 year old single malts to the International Space Station last year (purely for scientific reasons, of course), there’s not much to report… yet.
Which takes us back to the beginning of this post, and the dawn of commercial space flight. The battle to be the first company to take passengers beyond the limit of the earth’s atmosphere is dominated by three brands, owned or part-owned by famous billionaires: Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin. With the cost of space travel available to only high-net-worth individuals (pre-booking a seat with Virgin Galactic will set you back $250,000), it’s understandable that all three brands position themselves as highly aspirational. Essentially, their brands are selling supersonic first class travel. Which, if you’re wondering, means Tokyo to Los Angeles in about 1 hour, according to Sir Richard.
Their websites generally reflect this. High quality imagery and video content with simple, confident messaging and, generally, uncluttered design layouts. We’re not saying they’re perfect by any means, but you can see what they’re trying to achieve.
Of the three, Virgin Galactic definitely stands out in terms of being the most consumer-aware. They already have the PR value of pre-sold tickets and it is the only one to announce a brand partnership: Adidas’s exclusive Y3 brand has designed the pilots’ uniforms.
This hints at a luxury, bespoke element to their brand offering. And when you think of all the catering, logistical and software partners that they will need, you can start to see potential for other brands’ involvement too.
Add the consumer’s own journey and you can see more potential for existing luxury brands. Luggage manufacturers, fashion houses and tech brands, to name but three sectors, should all have the opportunity to boldly go where no brand has previously gone. Or alternatively, bona fide space brands might be born to compete in the mix.
Either way, an exciting future for the next generation of luxury branding awaits. At the very least, starting to have conversations about their space strategy is a no brainer.
It’s not rocket science.