Marketers must look up to first man on the moon

This has been the week of two men named Armstrong. They hit the news for quite different reasons. Neil Armstrong, NASA astronaut and first man on the moon, sadly passed away after heart surgery. And Lance Armstrong, the world’s most famous cyclist, was banned for life by the US Anti-Doping Agency after announcing he would no longer contest the organisation’s charges of doping.

Ruth Mortimer

Our columnist Mark Ritson looks at the Lance Armstrong, but for me it is the life of Neil Armstrong that holds some important lessons for marketers. Neil’s legacy to the world and his family is undeniably far larger than this, but it’s interesting to pick out some business parallels from his story.

First of all, it’s important to be the first mover in your market. Armstrong is probably the most famous astronaut of all time. Since he first walked on the moon in 1969, he has been followed by a number of others. You might know the second man on the moon, Buzz Aldrin, but perhaps your memory is slipping by the time you get to the last man on the moon, Eugene Cernan.

Obviously, the most important thing is for any brand or product to be the best at what it does. But being the first can confer a lifetime of valuable authenticity on a brand. Look at Coca-Cola – around since 1886, the first mass-market cola brand; while Pepsi appeared only a few years later in the 1890s, many people still use Coke’s best-known strapline ‘the real thing’ to describe the original brand.

Second, Armstrong and NASA knew the importance of a great slogan. When Armstrong stepped onto the moon, he did not say “wow, it’s springy!” or “turns out these boots aren’t that comfy, actually…” He uttered the fantastic line: “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

This slogan has proved so important to the legend of the moon landing that the phrase has been endlessly examined and analysed to determine whether Armstrong really said “man” or “a man” in his original line. It is estimated that an enormous 450 million people listened to the speech at the time.

Armstrong and NASA knew the importance of a great slogan… That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind

Third, Armstrong knew the value of his brand. While he had not trained in business, he was extremely savvy about his worth. He refused to let youth channel MTV use his famous slogan on its launch. He also sued Hallmark Cards in 1994 for using his name and a recording of his well-known phrase in one of its products. He even started legal proceedings against his hairdresser for selling a few Armstrong locks to a collector.

None of these things are – please forgive the pun – rocket science. But they are vital marketing basics and Armstrong knew their importance even though he had not originally trained as a businessman.

The rest of us should probably keep them in mind too, even if we are more likely to go to the supermarket than the moon.

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