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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Starwars -- or Billboards?

Air Date: Week of

Commentator John Carroll looks at recent plans to launch advertising into space.


CURWOOD: Space: The Final Frontier - soon to be conquered in the name of advertising. That 's the intention of a company which recently said it wants to send a giant billboard into Earth orbit. Commentator John Carroll says this is one idea which should never get off the ground.

CARROLL: Maybe it was just a coincidence, but on the same day this spring that the Strategic Defense Initiative was retired to the Ronald Reagan Hall of Mirrors, a whole new Star Wars broke out over the proposal to send a billboard into space. Apparently it's not just nature that abhors a vacuum. But beyond that, SDI and the space ad have something else in common: both are more exciting in concept than in reality. Dubbed the Environmental Billboard by its Orwellian parent, the space ad has been more accurately labeled "intergalactic pollution" by critics. The cosmic Carl Sagan went so far as to call it "the thin wedge which may destroy optical ground-based astronomy." I think that's stargazing, to us earthlings. All this uproar has Space Marketing, Inc. backpedaling like a deadbeat Dad on payday. Initially, the plan was to sell the ad to a global marketer for some $15 to $30 million dollars. But recently, a company spokesman told the Boston Globe, "We will not allow it to be giant beer cans or golden arches. Our hope is it will be some sort of environmental symbol." Uh-huh - that's going to be one expensive baby seal floating around. But that's not the only area where the company is doing the moonwalk. Early on, they said the billboard would orbit for a month and burn up on re-entry, possibly releasing some ozone to help replenish the depleted ozone layer. Now they're saying that part of the billboard would disintegrate, but the rest would continue orbiting for a year, and monitor ozone data, which we need like another Amy Fisher movie. Either way, it sure smells like something's burning. As Space Marketing scans the skies for other ways of justifying its project, this version of Star Wars is taking on a decidedly Wild West flavor. One consumer advocate has said, "Any company crazy enough to advertise on a space billboard will be sorry." Those sound like fighting words to me. Maybe there's some use for SDI after all.

CURWOOD: Living on Earth commentator John Carroll is the head of Carroll Creative. He comes to us through member station WBUR in Boston.



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