Pepsi has scrapped plans to advertise from orbital spacecraft, Space.com reports. The soft drink manufacturer had been working with a Russian startup to test out the “out-of-this-world” method of advertising, but has curtailed the plans for reasons that remain unclear.
A Russian subsidiary of Pepsi had been working with a startup, StartRocket, to advertise its drink — “Adrenaline Rush” — from space. The plan was ambitious, even without putting an actual billboard into orbit. Any hypothetical orbital billboard would likely have to be miles wide, and would almost certainly require energy to illuminate.
Instead, the plan called for multiple smaller satellites to work in coordination, getting into position relative to each other — and the targeted audience on the ground. Using highly reflective mylar, the satellites would have reflected sunlight back onto the ground, taking the form of the desired message.
At one point, the company’s Russian subsidiary was absolutely convinced that space-based advertising was the next big thing in marketing. Olga Mangova, a spokesperson for PepsiCo Russia, had made this point clear in the past.
“Orbital billboards are the revolution on the market of communications.”
Pepsi even got as far as a small-scale test, sending one or more prototypes into the stratosphere on high-altitude balloons.
However, these plans have since been scrapped, as Pepsi confirms in a statement.
“We can confirm StartRocket performed an exploratory test for stratosphere advertisements using the Adrenaline GameChangers logo. This was a one-time event; we have no further plans to test or commercially use this technology at this time.”
— SPACE.com (@SPACEdotcom) April 16, 2019
The reasoning behind the abandonment of the aforementioned plans remains shrouded in mystery, but there are several factors at play that may have led to the decision.
For one thing, the company behind the project, StartRocket, appears to be out of money. They are in the midst of an attempt to raise $25 million through crowdfunding.
There are also legal hurdles. Though the status of space advertising with regards to Russian law remains nebulous, it’s illegal in the United States — kind of. Specifically, U.S. law prohibits companies from launching spacecraft from the U.S., and then deploying an form of orbital advertising. The Pepsi/StartRocket plans didn’t meet that standard, but it’s likely that if the plans had gotten off the ground, Congress could have possibly started looking into tightening up the space-advertising laws.
And finally, it could have been a bad public relations move, anyway. International agreements consider space to be a shared domain, and sending up spacecraft for the purpose of commercial advertising has been criticized as “vandalism” by some within the space community.