The SVA Masters in Branding thesis project is a six week immersion, aiming to reposition a brand that has fallen out of touch with culture.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, was founded in the late 1950s. The agency's mission was to strengthen the United States’ scientific and technological stature after a series of Soviet Union achievements in space. NASA's audacious goal to place the first man on the moon, and the preliminary missions in preparation for that, galvanized the nation and ignited a cultural fascination with space exploration and the mindset of “tomorrow.” To millions across the country and the globe, to speak of NASA was to tell the story of American heroism and ingenuity.
The decades that have passed since the golden era of a 1960s/1970s NASA have brought many advancements in space technology, as well as countless changes in the world. Conflicts, wars, financial crises and climate change demanded attention–leaving NASA’s advancements to grow dim in their aftermath. At the same time, the agency’s expanding reach into realms beyond "space exploration” has made their story considerably more complex than one of simply heroism and ingenuity alone. The year 2011 dealt a final devastating blow to the organization as it ushered in the retirement of the modern era’s icon of NASA space exploration–the space shuttle. The grandeur and excitement of countdowns, liftoffs and rocket engines firing has disappeared, and with it, a powerful storytelling instrument for NASA.
The Space Industry
Today's story of space exploration is also evolving. NASA is no longer alone in the game. Celestial hype now centers around private companies such as SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin–companies with public facing brands and spirited brand personalities like Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Jeff Besos. These organizations and their clear, exciting messages are redefining space exploration for the masses.
The transformation in the space exploration industry, as well as NASA’s evolving story have created a dull perception around the organization, leading many to question their efficiency and significance.
In the eyes of the public, NASA has no unified story. To recapture the imagination of the public once again, NASA must communicate its mission–fueling the exploration that accelerates humanity–through one meaningful voice.
However, recapturing the public’s imagination is not the only problem NASA faces. The companies in the private sector are quickly becoming ideal places of employment. In a list of the top 100 attractive employers for engineering students SpaceX made an impressive debut–ranking 5th (Forbes, 2015). If this lackluster perception continues to surround NASA, they will not only fail to ignite a sense of curiosity, but also continue to drown in the wake of other companies as they struggle to attract the talent they need.
Our team began by examining the history of NASA–its achievements, failures, role in culture and the space industry–to understand how it has arrived here and to uncover its unique characteristics and offers.
We explored the expectations of a government agency from both its citizens and congress. We considered the meaning and application of science and analyzed the allure of space.
Our research left us in a quandary. How is it that a culture so fascinated with space and science was not more enamored with NASA?
In-depth interviews helped us understand the complexities and confusion surrounding NASA’s perception today. They also provide the insight to help identify NASA’s role in the minds of people–across the past, present and into the future.
All of this lead to us to our realization that NASA is telling a fragmented story to the public–with many characters and many missions. Today's culture, however, demands focused and clear communications among all the messaging and information its people are bombarded with day to day.
At NASA’s core is the pursuit of knowledge and exploration through inspiration, discovery and innovation. Their advancements and research are the fuel that accelerates humanity–but today, this is not being communicated in the most effective way.
NASA, Go Beyond aims to unify NASA’s voice–simplifying their language to create stimulating and impactful interactions with the public.
In our research, we encountered a potential obstacle to a new communications strategy–as a government agency, NASA is not allowed to advertise unless it is through a recruitment campaign. Our proposed executions keep this in mind.
Unifying NASA’s Voice
Currently, NASA has over 50 different websites and over 400 social media accounts. The average person in pursuit of specific information may be discouraged, finding themselves unable to locate what they are looking for easily. A proposed website redesign would centralize their digital presence in one place.
This unified presence can be communicated offline as well through a highly visible recruitment campaign–providing the opportunity for NASA’s work to reach those who may not necessarily be seeking it out in addition to reaching potential employees.
Build More Awareness
NASA’s discoveries and inventions have had an abundance of diverse commercial applications, yet this is widely unknown to the public. In order to communicate this valuable benefit, a Powered by NASA seal can be introduced for licensing agreements.
We discovered that the general public, one fascinated with space, is curious about what NASA is doing–but feels that NASA is not reporting enough, though the agency is in fact constantly publishing reports. And while this information is available to the public, it is often difficult to find, presented in a dry manner and wrought with technical vernacular. So how might we redefine the way NASA communicates how it serves the public? How could we transform NASA’s reports into something with more appeal and impact?
We developed NASA, Beyond Reports–an interactive installation and visualization of NASA’s findings. By partnering with visual artists, architects and designers, NASA can visually and experientially inform the public about the benefits and implications of their discoveries and work. For example, a complicated idea such as space-time curvature could be expressed by having viewers crawl through a series of connected nets.
NASA University, a proposed brand extension centralizes all of NASA’s contributions to education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics–making them available through distinctive programs for students hoping to start a career in the space industry. Additionally, NASA University would continue partnerships with universities across the United States, encouraging a collaborative culture.
NASA 1st Contact is an incubator space within the walls of NASA University. It provides small businesses and startups a place to develop ideas and gives them consolidated, direct access to NASA’s extensive portfolio of open source technology, resources and expertise. More fluid than some of their other facilities, it would cement NASA’s position as an invaluable economic resource in today’s market.
Kathryn Dill, March 23, 2015, The Most Attractive Employers For Engineering Students in 2015, Forbes
Reese Vaccarezza, Michi Ohira, Madalyn Worthington, Kim Weiner
Scott Lerman, Melanie Wiesenthal