Not everyone has $90 million to shoot their product into space.
However, surprising commercial pairings can have smashing results with an audience.
Elon Musk, CEO of both SpaceX and Tesla, used Tuesday’s rocket launch to bring whimsy and salesmanship to his struggling car company.
The rocket carried a playful payload: Mr. Musk’s red Roadster, an electric sports car built by his other company, Tesla. Strapped inside the car is a mannequin wearing one of SpaceX’s spacesuits. They are expected to orbit the sun for hundreds of millions of years.
“It’s kind of silly and fun, but silly and fun things are important,” Mr. Musk said.
The launch was broadcast live online and has racked up over 700,000 views on YouTube in less than 24 hours, while also being the second-most-watched livestream ever.
Space enthusiasts have been celebrating, with many expressing joy and wonder at the rocket’s launch—and two booster rockets’ safe return to Earth.
— Kapil Mishra (@KapilMishra_IND) February 7, 2018
— Chief Beck (@valor4us) February 7, 2018
The publicity for Musk car company might be worth the price tag.
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For Musk, the entire adventure is the perfect brand symbiosis: his SpaceX company gets a shiny attention grabber to help promote its spacefaring work, and his Tesla car company gets to claim that it has the fastest car in space. The bad jokes about the Roadster’s ludicrous speed out there are already pouring in, plus this pomp is helping divert attention from Tesla’s recent Model 3 production delays. It’s the greatest publicity stunt we’ve seen in a long time.
The Verge’s Vlad Savov gleefully praised Musk’s PR instincts, equating him with another master salesman, Steve Jobs:
Like Steve Jobs pulling the original MacBook Air out of a manila envelope back in 2008, the Tesla onboard the Falcon Heavy rocket was not strictly necessary to make the event impressive. But the car’s presence and expert presentation is what elevated that event, it’s what many of us will remember most vividly, and its continuing joyride through space will keep reminding us of the feat. On any other day, the choreographed twin rocket landing upon return from the successful Falcon Heavy launch would have been the main event. But then the car came up and everyone was floored.
Musk tweeted the million-dollar shot:
View from SpaceX Launch Control. Apparently, there is a car in orbit around Earth. pic.twitter.com/QljN2VnL1O
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 6, 2018
Musk used bits of popular culture to win fans as well, playing David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” during the broadcast and having part of the Tesla’s dashboard read “Don’t panic,” an homage to Douglas Adams’ “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”
The pop culture touches did not go unnoticed:
— Stephen Fry (@stephenfry) February 6, 2018
However, Musk’s stunt wasn’t embraced, um, universally.
Many wondered what the point of the expensive stunt was. Should the most powerful rocket of our age not have carried a more useful, worthy payload?
Either way, the plan worked and puts SpaceX far at the front of the commercial space race.
Though most communicators don’t own rocket manufacturing companies (or even electric motor companies), they might note Musk’s success at creating a crossover PR stunt. An unlikely pairing could be just the ticket for two organizations looking to launch.
What did you think of Tesla’s PR stunt? Was it worth every penny, or just cheesy?