NASA’s Apollo program is remembered as the series of space flights that ultimately put a man on the Moon in 1969. Millions of Americans watched the historic event live on television as Neil Armstrong took that “small step” on behalf of mankind. However, the flights themselves comprised only one part of the Apollo program. “Marketing the Moon” tells the story of the monumental public relations machine behind what the public saw.
The product of a collaboration by Apollo-enthusiast marketing professionals David Meerman Scott and Richard Jurek, “Marketing the Moon” explores the marketing efforts of NASA to promote the Apollo program to the American people. Scott and Jurek explain that the Apollo program would not have happened without what they call “the largest, and … most important, marketing and public relations case study in history.” Pieced together with primary source accounts supplemented with news coverage of the time, “Marketing the Moon” is extensively researched and thoughtfully presented.
Beginning with the way science fiction set the stage for American interest in space, the book describes the development of the relationship between NASA’s Public Affairs Office and the media. Operating more like a newsroom than a public relations enterprise, the Public Affairs Office answered requests from the media for information, and the media carried to the public. NASA developed a plethora of factual materials for this purpose, but its staff did not do it alone. The book describes the partnership between NASA and its contractors, who hoped to be mentioned by the media in connection with the Apollo program. These uncommon relationships between a government agency and the private sector made NASA’s enormous public relations project possible with the small budget and staff of the Public Affairs Office. At the height of the Apollo program, it commanded the attention of all three major news networks as well as over 3,000 reporters.
The attention did not last, though. Just as Apollo became the patriotic, inspirational effort of the late 1960s, the authors likewise follow the decline of public interest in the program, claiming that the reason humans have not yet reached Mars is marketing failure on NASA’s part. Once Kennedy’s goal of putting a man on the Moon by the end of the decade was achieved, the public rapidly lost enthusiasm. Despite an exhibit of the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia (the same artifact on display at the History Center in the Destination Moon exhibition) that traveled to all 50 states, people had become bored with space, or at least blasé to achievements that followed the initial landing. Other concerns took precedence, including the Vietnam War, civil rights protests, and environmental issues. If NASA did indeed experience a marketing failure, it may have been inevitable.
“Marketing the Moon” is a fascinating read about a part of the Apollo program that was behind the scenes, yet responsible for what the public saw. The live broadcast of the Apollo 11 Moon landing would not have happened without the dedicated staff of the Public Affairs Office. People who would especially enjoy this book include public relations and marketing professionals, those interested in the Apollo program, and those interested in landmark historical events. A few minor improvements would be helpful for understanding the book. The material of a few chapters is not presented chronologically; those chapters would be less confusing if they were written linearly or if a timeline was better established. A list of the people often mentioned in the book, especially those of the Public Affairs Office, along with their titles and the dates they held them, would also be useful. Those familiar with the Apollo program will find the book easier to follow. The book is well-written overall, extremely thought-provoking, and a much-needed account of an often-overlooked topic.
Reviewed by Julia Snyder, Publications intern at the History Center, Summer 2018