Dave Trott: Predatory thinking in space

In 1957, America was stunned.

The Russians launched Sputnik: the world’s first satellite.

It passed over the USA every 90 minutes, sending out radio signals.

The USA couldn’t shoot it down, they didn’t have the technology.

The entire country was petrified.

American newspapers went into hysterics.

With a fleet of satellites, Russia could hit the USA whenever they wanted.

America, the world’s most powerful country was defenceless.

At that moment the Space Race began.

For the next twenty years America would throw everything they had into beating Russia.

The world could see it was the one country they were scared of.

Russia officially became a global superpower, like the USA.

But what did it look like from the other side, the Russian side?

At the end of World War Two, Russia was broke, they could barely feed their own people.

They tried to build a nuclear missile like America had.

But theirs was too big, too unwieldy, too slow to set up.

So the scientists decided to see if they could use it to launch something, anything, just to keep their jobs.

A crude metal sphere would do, but how would they know if it worked?

They had no radar that could see anything that far away.

The cheapest and easiest way was to fit a small transmitter inside the metal sphere, just sending out "beep beep" signals.

So the Russian scientists sent up the little metal ball and listened for the "beep beep" signals to confirm it worked.

Then they went off to the canteen and thought no more about it.

But the USA didn’t know it was just an empty metal ball.

To them it was something out science fiction, an immense threat.

When Khrushchev saw the American hysteria he immediately told the scientists to launch more ‘firsts’.

Russia couldn’t afford new missiles so they had to use what they had.

The missile that could just about get something up into orbit.

So they put the first living creature, a dog, into orbit.

Then they put the first man, Yuri Gagarin, into orbit.

Then they put the first woman, Valentina Tereshkova, into orbit.

Then they had a cosmonaut make the first ever space walk, in orbit.

All the Russians had was a missile that could just about achieve orbit.

But the Americans didn’t know that.

With each ‘first’ the Americans got more hysterical.

As they did, they cemented Russia’s place in the world’s mind as the USA’s only real rival.

For Kruschev it was a classic piece of marketing.

He made America spend all those billions on advertising Russia.

The world believed America had an equal.

Which is why you want the market leader to respond to your campaign.

To needle them into spending their money on a campaign that advertises your brand.

In the public’s mind it becomes a two horse race.

Your brand is elevated into equality with the market leader.

And that’s how, with hardly any money or resources, the Russian ‘space team’ took market share from the brand leader.

Of course America eventually won the space race, with their vastly superior resources they were always going to.

But Russia made sure the USA spent a lot of their money giving them a piggyback ride.

Predatory Thinking even works in space.

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