Pizza Hut delivered a 6-inch pizza (topped with salami) to the International Space Station in 2001. Elon Musk famously blasted his Tesla roadster toward Mars in 2018. And, earlier this year, Estée Lauder sent 10 bottles of its new skin serum to the International Space Station, presumably to prove just how radiant you can look in zero gravity.
But sending brands into the great beyond is one thing. Still unexplored is the mysterious realm of how a brand goes about actually marketing itself when it’s up there.
Some time in the distant future, this challenge will face many brands. But, for now, it’s the concern of just one: Virgin, the media, hospitality and travel conglomerate founded by Richard Branson.
Virgin Galactic, the brand’s aerospace division, began testing a spaceplane called SpaceShipTwo a decade ago. In 2018, when the ship reached 51.4 miles above the earth and hit the zone that NASA defines as space (above 50 miles), the prospect of space travel for civilians suddenly shifted from science fiction to reality.
That had, in fact, been the plan from the start. SpaceShipTwo, a carbon composite craft that vaguely resembles a paper airplane, has room for six passengers in addition to its two pilots. And while Covid-19 iced plans to send civilian astronauts up this fall, a reported 600 people have already paid the $250,000 price for a ticket.
That presented Virgin Galactic with a unique branding task: design an interior environment that, while meeting all of the functional mandates of space travel, still makes it clear that passengers are flying Virgin.
But that’s not as easy as it sounds. After all, this is hardly the redeye to JFK. SpaceShipTwo relies on a four-engine mothership called White Knight Two to fly it up to 50,000 feet. After cutting loose, SpaceShipTwo then pitches its nose to near vertical and fires its rocket motor until it reaches an altitude of about 62 miles above Earth. Passengers enjoy about five minutes of weightlessness before the ship “feathers” its rudders and glides back to earth.
To match the unique experience, Virgin’s team (with an assist from London-based design firm Seymourpowell) created a new interior design vernacular that, while eschewing logos and other obvious branding elements, would still ensure that passengers’ stellar experience was a Virgin one.
“We’re welcoming the dawn of a new space age, and the reality is that [involves] creating astronauts out of humans,” Virgin Galactic’s design director Jeremy Brown told Adweek. In the past, he said, the interior design of spacecrafts has been purely functional. “This,” he said, “is something very, very different.”
Forget about cocktail napkins bearing the Virgin logo or flight attendants in red blazers. SpaceShipTwo has no beverage service and no flight attendants. There are no pillows, snacks or in-flight movies, either.
According to Jeremy White, Seymourpowell’s director of transport, branding the cabin was largely an effort “to find the bits that would resonate” with consumers, subtle accoutrements including “little magical touches” that would convey the Virgin brand without quite saying it.
Which sounds fine in theory, of course, but what does it really look like? Below, Virgin Galactic and Seymourpowell spotlight some of those elements and explain how they work.
An obviously functional piece of equipment, the seats holds passengers in place via a five-point harness and reclines to help them tolerate the 3.5 gravitational force loads during ascent and reentry. “These are space seats, not aircraft seats,” Brown pointed out.