When a Russian Proton rocket emblazoned with a 30-foot Pizza Hut logo blasted into space from the Baikonur Cosmodrome launch site in Kazakhstan, it looked as though advertisers might be about to conquer their final frontier.
Thirteen years on, however, the prospect of space turning into an advertising medium on a truly grand scale seems as far away as the most distant galaxy.
It isn’t that the enabling technology doesn’t exist. As long ago as 1993, Michael Lawson, the chief executive of Space Marketing Concepts, talked of putting billboards in orbit around the Earth
and displaying ads of roughly the same apparent size and brightness of the moon.
And the Russian spacecraft designer Alexander Lavrynov claims to have invented a method by which multiple satellites with sunlight reflectors could create advertising images visible from Earth.
So far, though, this is all pie in the sky, with advertisers having only brief flirtations with space. In 1996, Pizza Hut’s parent PepsiCo paid the Russian space programme $5 million to have cosmonauts float a replica soda can outside the Mir space station. Coca-Cola responded by installing a drinks machine in Nasa’s Endeavour space shuttle.
Today, advertising in space remains grounded by controversy, with critics claiming it should be banned because of its aesthetic offensiveness and because it could hinder the work of astronomers.
In 2005, the US Federal Aviation Administration proposed a ban on "advertising in outer space that is capable of being recognised by a human being on the surface of the Earth without the aid of a telescope or other technological device".