…but the first advertisement on the moon was never secretive. No, no, no. It was actually met with much anticipation when a then unknown athletic apparel company used this audacious announcement to not only gain unfounded notoriety, but unfounded wealth from investors who didn’t quite yet know who they were, what they were investing in or even if the company had a product line. This was Atix of course, as we all know now – a clever name with (now somewhat ironic) namesake acronyms that had already existed prior to all of this. (LAUGHTER) Right? Trusted Information Exchange. (LIGHT LAUGHTER) But this was all New Branding, right? Guerilla, viral, social media. All message, no product. Your average corporation spends at least half their operating budget on marketing. It’s true. Not surprising but true. It’s part in parcel to planned obsolescence. That is to say less and less is being invested into the quality of a product and more and more into how that product is sold. Anyway. This was the pinnacle of “all-message and no product.” An almost brazen “fuck you” to the consumer. (LAUGHTER) “We’re just selling you an idea, and you know you want it.” And they did. I’m sure some of you are even wearing Atix right now. Hey no judgment, I’ve got a pair of used MoonRaker’s on myself. (LIGHT LAUGHTER) Quite the anomaly, yeah? Brilliant marketing and quality products.
Where was I? (LIGHT LAUGHTER) Uh, right…this to-be-completed lunar ad gained a lot of media attention in what was an already tried and true (and at this point completely transparent) post-modern marketing method – brand immersion. I know I don’t need to explain this to most of you but lets just all get on the same page for the sake of my argument. The particular aspect of brand immersion illustrated here is the sort of pre-production process wherein you’ve already targeted your market audience and build a campaign that is sort of tautological in its execution of advertising the advertisement. There’s no product, no brand identity, maybe even no logo. But the demo already exists and this redundant process gets them excited about who knows what? In a word: hype. But it’s more than that. I think it gives the consumer a false sense of being on the inside or being more informed when they see the process and the product. We’ve done it in the past right? Televised singing competitions. Your American Idol. Where you passively become a consumer of a yet to be realized product that’s being tailored right in front of your eyes. Where once the thrill of finding new music used to be a marvelously rich and circuitous path to discovery – going to shows at dive bars, getting second hand mixtapes from friends, seeing local openers for big headlining acts. Now it’s all being done for you. Being chosen for you. This goes beyond your run-of-the-mill singing competition show. It’s everywhere. It’s an illusion of involvement, of being an insider, of being aware of the process. But we are a part of the process. Not just the process but their process. And this is what Atix did. “We’re creating an ad campaign for an ad campaign and it’s going to be brilliant and you’re going to love it. Stay tuned.” When a corporation tells you “this is how we do things” instead of simply doing the things that they do. It’s like they’re a good friend. Maybe not even a good friend, but an honest friend. Like “Here’s how we’re going to sell you our product. And you’ll certainly want to buy it.” Of course this is all a taciturn and subliminal agreement that we make with the corporations (LIGHT LAUGHTER) but it works.
So with this concept, they did market research, zeroed in on their demo and went all guerilla-viral with it. Is that a term? (LIGHT LAUGHTER) It is now. Copyright. Right here (LIGHT LAUGHTER). But they executed some really great ideas right? In retail stores like Sports Authority, Footlocker and Big 5 they had their R&D guys come in to basically hack their registers to print out receipts that looked like this. (SPEAKER SHOWS SLIDE OF PRINTED RETAIL RECEIPT) Everything’s normal until you get to the bottom where it looks like - and they programmed it to look like this - there was some sort of malfunction that caused the paper to tear off far too soon and at an askew angle. This revealed partial information about the company like a logo, url and YouTube code that appeared on the receipt as some sort of handwritten addendum that wasn’t meant to be there. The more curious were inclined to follow this white rabbit into its labyrinthine digital realm to find even more obscure and enigmatic content that looked like propaganda for some fictitious pro-lunar grassroots movement. Do I have another example? That’s right. I guess this was a little less clever. More overt-ish. Stenciled designs were tagged onto the conveyor belts of treadmills at gyms. Particularly Gold’s Gym. (SPEAKER PLAYS VIDEO OF LOGO ON A MOVING TREADMILL) They did this before opening hours and made sure to hide it on the bottom of treadmill so that users wouldn’t be initially suspicious as they chose their machine. They also switched it up daily with different machines so that only one treadmill at any given time had the logo and url spinning under a gym member’s feet. This caused some to think they were crazy while it urged others to find the special treadmill everyday as if they would win some prize for doing so. I think Easter Egg is the proper term here.
These were clever and genuinely interesting and innovative ways that Atix was approaching their to-be-realized lunar ad. Right? They had announced this big to do and then teased us little by little with the methods I mentioned. But things became rather conventional after their intentions were made public and everyone was buzzing about the lunar ad. They just sloppily plastered posters up all over the place like derelict street artists. In the end, the greatest offense was the self-conscious clichés like “shoot for the moon,” or “eclipse the competition.” And uh…what was the other one? (INAUDIBLE FROM CROWD). What was that? (INAUDIBLE FROM CROWD) Oh! No, that’s the…thing. I’ll get to that in a minute. (INAUDIBLE FROM CROWD) Right, right. “Blue Moon unique. New Moon chic.” (LAUGHTER) I’m not even sure what that one means. And it’s my job to figure out shit like this. (LAUGHTER) Uhh…ok. But despite the conventionalism, there was this strange element of braggadocio and gravitas that really gave this thing legs. If not simply for the fact that they guaranteed the public that they would be putting an advertisement on the moon in the near future.
It’s funny, to me, to think that this idea – this apparently novel, almost revolutionary idea – of putting an ad on the moon was – behind the closed doors of marketing giants, ad agencies and corporations – thought of as old hat. Collectively, these people had been talking about it for some time – ads on the moon – but most saw it as a pipe dream of sorts. Or worse: gimmicky. When it came down to brass tacks, the general attitude became “why bother?” The science of marketing was already reaching levels of evil genius, what with near constant surveillance of shopping habits (online and in person), HIPAA violating taps into personal psychological histories, law violating taps into bank accounts for spending histories and free market-research that was monitored via numbers next to “thumbs-up” or “thumbs-down” icons, or various star ratings found nearly everywhere on the internet from willing participants who received no actual benefits from providing such valuable information. All of this data, of course, was used to create personalized advertising, and therefore shopping, experiences for every unique human being – ages 0-dead – that was nearly impossible to resist. Combine that with the predictive, influential and assertive analytic services that the since defunct Lacunal Analytics provided, and flashy, dramatic displays like advertising on the moon seemed passé, even though it had never been done before.
(WHISPERING) I worked for them, you know. (LIGHT COMMOTION) Oh come on, it’s not that big of a secret. (LIGHT LAUGHTER) (WHISPERING) Lacunal Analytics.
But I digress. Lets get back to the moon, because the moon is important. Important in its role as a character in all of this. As not just a canvas upon which the ad was to be placed, but a participant. And not only that, but a symbol or metaphor. Something of which Atix was fully aware and exploitative. In another sort of grand “fuck you,” this time to the corporate naysayers, not the consumers – they were going after everybody (LAUGHTER) – the lunar ad concept was embraced and touted as holistic, not just some contrivance. Liam Johnson, Atix president and CEO, said this on record: “On the surface it’s like ‘Yeah, the moon. Uncharted marketing territory. Constantly visible. Paradigm shifting application.’ Whatever. The apparent pragmatism or opportunism of this whole thing is merely operating in the shadow of the bigger picture. Which is that we’re using this opportunity to saw the legs off the table that is contemporary advertising while simultaneously trying to rebuild it. Now what do I mean by that?”
(LIGHT LAUGHTER) Have you ever heard anyone talk like this? (LAUGHTER) He’s really quite the windbag, but he gets to an important point here.
“Think about it. The moon is this ubiquitous extraterrestrial object that is apparent and visible is some way shape or form by any number of waking humans across the globe at any given time. It’s there and we know it’s there. But ask around. Ask anyone when the last time it was that they really took a look at the moon. When the last time it was that they intentionally stopped to gaze at it or admire it. You’ll find many people don’t pay attention to the moon. And by that concept, we, as humans, don’t pay attention to ubiquity. We know it’s there, we just don’t really care. This is the state of advertising. People don’t care, or worse, are passive participants in the whole game. So we’re using the cosmic scale of ubiquity to call this lack of attention to attention and begin to redefine what it means to sell.”
And this attitude slowly made its way into the cultural consciousness as if consumers were waking up from some terrible dream or induced coma, finally making out the details of their dingy reality through the fog of their past. Because of this, most journalists and social commentators mark the first lunar ad, flashy and dramatic as it was, as a sort of turning point, catalyst or downtrend (or uptrend, depending on whose side you were on) in the perpetual assimilation of advertising into every aspect of the modern consumer’s life. Even though the culture and tactics of contemporary marketing had been in practice and had embraced this ubiquity for quite some time before, this was just so brash and unprecedented that it finally seemed fashionable to decry the current state of advertising and consumerism in America with a collective voice.
Well…uh. It’s a bit downhill from here. All this gets much darker. So lets lighten the mood a bit and make a cogent point at the same time.
Often the jesters are the ones who can deliver truths without the threat of retribution. Humor, of course, revealing poignantly the harsh truths of our society with softer blows that allows the intended target to heal quickly while it ferments as a dissident thought in the more apt viewer.
Far before all of this lunar ad business, an episode of Futurama made a joke – are you all familiar? Anyway, it was early on in the millennium, and in this particular episode they were introducing the audience to the futuristic concept of advertisements showing up in dreams. Fry, the one whose dream-ad we see, later defends his own time period – he was in the future, the 31st century, as an involuntary 21st century defector – by reciting a laundry list of all the deceivingly inoffensive places you would see ads in the 21st century. But not dreams.
(SPEAKER PLAYS CLIP OF FUTURAMA EPISODE 1ACV06 “A FISHFUL OF DOLLARS”)
FRY: So you’re telling me they broadcast commercials into people’s dreams?
LEELA: Of course.
FRY: But, how is that possible?
FARNSWORTH: It’s simple. The ad gets into your brain just like this liquid gets into this egg. (Farnsworth injects and egg with an unknown substance until it explodes) Although in reality it’s not liquid, but gamma radiation.
FRY: That’s awful. It’s like brainwash.
LEELA: Didn’t you have ads in the 20th century?
FRY: Well, sure. But not in our dreams. Only on TV and radio. And in magazines. And movies. And at ballgames, on buses and milk cartons and t-shirts and bananas and written on the sky. But not in dreams! No-siree. (LAUGHTER)
BENDER: Quit squakin’ fleshwad, no one’s forcin’ you to buy anything.
AMY: Yeah. I mean we all have commercials in our dreams, but you don’t see us running off to buy brand-name merchandise at low, low prices. (LAUGHTER)
(all characters rush off screen) (LAUGHTER)
Funny, yes, but it illustrates a pretty dark reality. An almost slave-like obedience to marketing and consumerism.
But anyway, back to this sort of pivotal moment in the power structure of social oligarchy, the lunar ad, right? They finally got to it after all the guerilla viral nonsense. It was, technically, quite brilliant. That is to say, brilliant in its sort of low-techy solution. It was basically a huge slide projector. Of course, the engineering aspects evade me, but all of the dumbed down explanations on various news outlets described it in a few major, easy to understand points. (SPEAKER SHOWS SLIDES OF THE “SLIDE PROJECTOR” AND ITS TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS) 1. The sun is a huge light bulb (shocking, yes?) 2. The space-bound slide projector was such a size and shape placed at a prime distance and angular diameter relative to the sun to cast a proper umbra (a word that later became more popularized outside of its chiefly astronomical usage to describe the Earth’s shadow on the moon or the central part of sunspots) on the visible surface of the moon 3. Said slide projector used a combined method of Venus’ gravity and rocket propulsion to track the moon unerringly in its constant panoptic surveillance and projection 4. The ad itself was cryptic, and well, kind of disappointing.
They took a few pages from the classics of the fitness infomercial whose many forms claimed to be so effective because their approach was “insane” or “psycho.” The lunar ad read, in six successive slides:
(SPEAKER SHOWS 6 SUCCESSIVE SLIDES OF TEXT ON THE FACE OF A FULL MOON)
(PAUSE) There you have it. Most of you are old enough to have seen it, yes? However dramatic and singular the lunar ad seemed to be, it was more of a peripheral introduction to even more viral marketing campaigns that involved “moon-men” and “moon-women” appearing, respectively, as the crustacean creatures from the Meliés film Le Voyage Dans La Lune (SPEAKER PLAYS CLIP OF LE VOYAGE DANS LA LUNE) – There they are – and various incarnations of Lunatix, the overzealous guide to the world of Winsor McCay’s Slumberland, whose entrance lies at the gaping mouth of the moon (SPEAKER SHOWS VARIOS SLIDES DEPICTING VARIOUS PANELS OF SLUMBERLAND COMICS). These characters were engaging in any number of sports-related physical activities expertly photoshopped into existing NASA photographs of the lunar landscape from the various Apollo missions. The “virality” of the campaign exploded as they encouraged consumers to don their apparel and photograph their own moon activities in similar or unique moon-person costumes. Their online, cookie-cutter compositing suite made this easy for even the most novice of photo manipulators. Upload, auto mask, background, done. The creators of the most popular of these (as decided by “likes” and other such things in internet-approval vernacular), they said, would win a to-be-announced future trip to the moon (LIGHT LAUGHTER) I know, right? A trip to the moon where the first extraterrestrial ultramarathon would occur as participants would run around the circumference of the famous Tycho Crater. Had this actually happened, 100+ winners would have dressed in their space-skins and fish bowls, been launched to the moon and would have attempted to run nearly 200 miles on the lunar surface. (LIGHT LAUGHTER) A rough calculation would put the duration of this ultramarathon at 150 hours. And that’s without breaks.
So, of course, this never came to fruition. And the company later admitted that a serious plan for such a feat was never a realistic goal more than it was fodder for one of the most publicized ad campaigns in history.
Surprisingly the actual ad only stayed projected on the lunar surface for about a week before it started to fade. R&D at the company apparently wasn’t all it was cracked up to be as it seemed that their slides, when bombarded with the harsh and unforgiving light of the sun in the absence of any kind of atmosphere or otherwise protective substance, faded like acid-laden newsprint left out in the afternoon’s eternity. However unintended, the dissolution of the initial message led to a rather poetic end to the strange fraud of an ad campaign. First the letters faded until there was nothing more to see on the surface of the moon other than the filtered sunlight, which turned the moon’s brightness down a few shades. (SPEAKER SHOWS SLIDES OF “CONTROL MOON,” “TEXT MOON” AND “DIM MOON”) Then the blank slides became discolored by the same powerful light that erased the original message. The moon began to grow warmer by the day. In terms of color that is. See there? (SPEAKER SHOWS SLIDES OF “DIM MOON” AND PROGRESSIVELY WARMER “WARM MOONS”) You can see the distinct progression to a more yellowed moon by the end of the second week since the ad was successfully projected. A dimmed moon turned into an out-of-season harvest moon. And there was a sort of serene beauty to this constantly twilit moon. But this beauty soon waned and a strange tinge of ominousness waxed as the discoloration ended on an extremely rich blood red. You see this transition came even faster. (SPEAKER SHOWS SLIDES OF “WARM MOON” AND “BLOOD MOON”) Just a few days. Menacing as it was, some were tricked into thinking it was an unusually prolonged lunar eclipse. It looked almost identical. (SPEAKER SHOWS SLIDES OF “BLOOD MOON” AND “TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE”) But the ill omen eventually collapsed, or perhaps gave into its own sense of foreboding when the slide projector’s rockets ran out of fuel, sending the craft plummeting into the savage terrain of Venus where it turned to ashes.
So the first lunar ad, while at a moment’s glance seemed a novel augmentation to the topography of advertising, or even our reality, unintentionally dissolved with a sort of quiet madness that was at once beautiful and frightening. Properly uncanny, most were left with a heaviness in their minds that never quite went away.
Now all this is kind of fun and interesting, and that’s how they designed it to be. But I don’t want to avoid putting all of this under some sort of critical eye, because, well, that’s what I’m here to do. And you’ll see, I think as it’s already been put forth, that this particular event and those events surrounding it were rather multi-faceted and multi-purposed in their execution. And that’s what makes all of this so…engaging. And it’s why we’re still here talking about it today, some decades later.
This Atix ad is sort of the linchpin in the past, present and future of prescribed cultural events. Not just that, but prescribed culture. Perhaps even prescribed reality, which is what I’m here to talk about. And on the macro level this seems like no big deal, right? There’s still authentic culture right? Authentic reality? Right? (PAUSE) Are you sure? Because the passive way in which these seemingly harmless stunts originate and execute on this macro scale have consequences in every little micro facet in the lives of all consumers, and in turn, all people. Of course, this is the plan. And this is the problem.
Can you remember what the moon looked like without ads? I doubt you can…