How NASA got men to the moon: smart marketing
Next time you’re looking up at the stars, we’d like you to think about the marketing that went into getting people to the moon – and funding the governmental entity that made it possible.
NASA was created on July 29, 1958. Federal agencies aren’t overly transparent, but in this case, public relations was a key goal. If the U.S. government wanted to invest billions in space exploration when it was already pouring public money into the Vietnam War, there needed to be massive taxpayer support.
Their first move was to hire public affairs staff to serve as in-house reporters. These were former correspondents and reporters who acted like they were still in the newsroom. They interviewed engineers, published bylined articles and produced their own broadcast segments.
“The greatest story never told (until now) about content as a marketing tool is that it helped to deliver humans to the moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s,” said David Meerman Scott, co-author of the 2014 book “Marketing the Moon.”
An image from NASA’s original 256-page press kit.
NASA’s PR team also carefully managed the media’s access to their astronauts’ lives. Knowing there would be voracious interest, they provided ample information and allowed in-depth features to keep editors satisfied.
NASA struck a deal with Life magazine to share exclusive details of astronauts’ personal lives.
And maybe the most important move was to encourage subcontractors to serve as marketing partners. Soon, companies ranging from IBM to Boeing to Rolex to Sony were doing most of the promotion themselves.
“By head count, we had more contractors’ public relations people than we had NASA employees,” said one former PR officer.
The General Foods brand Tang aligned itself so well with the space mission that many people thought it was actually created for NASA in the first place. It wasn’t.
All that effort galvanized public support. On July 20, 1969, an estimated 94 percent of American TVs were tuned to the moon landing.
Long story short: NASA could’ve operated in secrecy, but through producing its own content, managing the media and leveraging partners, they accomplished their mission.