NASA: Marketing the Journey to Mars with Hollywood

Scientists have been struggling with raising research funding, especially when not being able to generate immediate economic values. This is a challenge that NASA must also tackle.

Budget is mission-critical

NASA’s major investor, or customer, is the US government. The federal budget for NASA has been declining in recent decade, reaching a historic low in 2013. The House of Representatives and the Senate must carefully evaluate, compare and justify, in this “purchase” with a high level of customer involvement, among other budget proposals. No wonder NASA has a saying that “budget is mission-critical” in the Mission of “sending astronauts to Mars and bringing them safely back to Earth”.

Art is powerful

As creatively as they explore the Journey to Mars, NASA scientists teamed with a powerful collaborator, Hollywood. NASA covertly marketed (Akdoğan and Altuntaş, 2015) their Mission through a movie: “The Martian”. The movie itself, premiered on September 11, 2015, was produced and marketed by 20th Century Fox.

Video: The Martian Trailer

The movie tells the adventure of how a NASA astronaut survives after being accidentally left on Mars alone and is finally rescued by NASA. The exotic scenes on Mars, unusual life in the spacecraft, the extremely capable NASA astronauts and the close-to-real NASA technologies, together with skillful perceptual fluency, stroke the audience with exceptional and positive sensory experience, effortlessly establishing the brand association with NASA, including the mission, the people, the technology and the spirit.

The NASA astronauts in the movie display unusual poise and capability to tackle any expected and unexpected challenges. The courage touched the emotion of the audience and triggered the highest level of motivation – Self-Actualization: developing human beings’ full potential to explore fundamental mysteries of the universe. Whether it be a childhood dream, a long term curiosity or a new ambition, the Mission was now recognised and valued at an emotional level.

Marketing is influential

On September 28th, at a “coincidental” timing, NASA announced an exciting discovery: they found water on Mars for the first time. This reinforces a belief in NASA’s excellence of capability, not in a scientific fiction, but in reality. The public readily formed an emotional engagement (Shaw, n.d.): to value, trust and be loyal to NASA.  Having a high level of motivation and capability, what remained in uncertainty now was resources – funding. Sponsoring NASA’s Mission should be put on a high importance weight by government among other budget proposals.

Since release, the movie has been shown in 81 countries and was ranked the 13th best movie in 2015. It received many award nominations and won Best Picture and Best Actor Awards in Golden Globe Awards. “The Martian” was repeated reported and positively reviewed in news, in media and by Word of Mouth. Through this classic conditioning, NASA and “the Journey to Mars” have also been turning into a positive long-term memory. The rich information would consciously guide the public, including the Voters, to rational evaluation of the Mission, or would unconsciously influence forming positive attitude.

Decision to Mission

On December 18, 2015, the House and the Senate overwhelmingly voted for $19.3 billion budget for 2016 – 1.2 billion higher than 2015 and $750 million over the requested number. The programs of Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft, specifically targeting on sending astronauts to Mars in the 2030s, are benefited the most.

While celebrating the success, we can’t ignore that it is the uniqueness of NASA that prompted Hollywood to make the volunteer product placement (Akdoğan and Altuntaş, 2015).

To conclude please let me revise J. F. Kennedy’s famous Moon speech (Kennedy, 1962):

We choose to go to the missions, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and Marketing skills!


AKDOĞAN, M. Ş. & ALTUNTAŞ, B. 2015. Covert Marketing Strategy and Techniques. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 207 135 – 148.

KENNEDY, J. F. 1962. “We choose to go to the  Moon” Speech at Rice Stadium.  “We choose to go to the Moon……, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.” [Online]. NASA.  [Accessed March 30, 2015].

SHAW, C. n.d. Emotional Engagement: Driving Value and ROI [Online]. Return on service: understanding the financial implications of customer service.  [Accessed March 29, 2016].

Jewel Huang/Student ID: 216216298

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