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Space Force (the real one) tries to trump Elon Musk and SpaceX to inspire Gen Z to join up

Amid a lot of space-related action this week, the newest branch of the U.S. military embarks on its first major recruiting campaign.

Space Force (the real one) tries to trump Elon Musk and SpaceX to inspire Gen Z to join up

During the NCAA college football bowl game extravaganza on New Year’s Day in 1981, the U.S. Army launched its newest ad campaign. This was just over five years removed from the end of the Vietnam War, and you could say that military service had a wee bit of a brand image challenge. The Army’s goal wasn’t just to bring in more sign-ups, which it needed to do, but also move beyond mostly high school dropouts and attract a higher caliber of recruit.

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Over the next 20 years, “Be All You Can Be” became one of America’s most recognizable ad slogans, along with its much-quoted line, “We do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day.”

Now, a day after NASA and SpaceX attempted to launch the first manned space flight from U.S. soil in more than a decade, the United States Space Force is launching a new ad campaign aiming to attract Gen Z’s best and brightest, those with the education, experience, interest, and skills in STEM fields who also meet the mental, moral, and physical requirements needed.

Created with the Austin-based ad agency ​GSD&M, there’s a reason “Making History” is aiming to position the new military branch as what it calls “a unique generational opportunity.” Because those with the brains and skills that Space Force is looking for are already highly recruited among the giants of tech and aerospace.

The spot itself is certainly adequate, illustrating the beyond-the-stars wonder of it all.

But the timing is a bit curious.

NASA and SpaceX dominated yesterday with the idea that there are other ways one can reach for those same stars (even if the launch got weather-delayed). Then on Friday comes the debut of the new Netflix comedy spoof Space Force, starring Steve Carell and John Malkovich. Space Force is not about the actual agency, but regardless, the real Space Force campaign now finds itself sandwiched between the triumph of a first for a private spacecraft and the butt of a pop-culture joke.

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Poor Gen Z is absolutely floating in space content this week. The last U.S. manned space flight was in 2011, when Space Force’s current target demo was at best around 15 years old, and at worst in diapers. Now here we are with Space Force, Space Force, and SpaceX and NASA. Then there was more news about Tom Cruise wanting to shoot a film in space with Doug Liman (Bourne Identity, Swingers) and Elon Musk? Even Ben & Jerry’s and Netflix (home to Carell’s Space Force) beat Space Force into orbit with this clever teaser for its forthcoming Boots On The Moooo’n ice cream. Boots On The Moooo’n, go for launch . . . into my belly.

All in one week!

All this chatter shows the pull, both intellectual and emotional, beyond the earth’s atmosphere. One that Space Force will undoubtedly tap into to some extent. It’s betting that its romantic appeal can help it win the talent war over Musk and SpaceX—and Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin—who are offering stock rather than stars and stripes.

With this new campaign, however, Space Force is faced with the same challenge that’s keeping any and every other marketer up at night—how to effectively break through all the clutter and noise to carve out an audience orbit all your own. This will be especially tough, because as a brand, fairly or not, it has the added burden of being more directly linked to the president who launched it than any other branch of the military.

He may tweet more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day, but that’s not quite the recruit Space Force is looking for.

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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