Elon Musk with Tesla Car

Elon Musk Hits PR Payday with Tesla-SpaceX Stunt

Elon Musk, owner of electric car brand Tesla and rocket manufacturing company SpaceX, knows how to drum up publicity with his crazy PR stunts. But his latest was literally out-of-this-world.

On February 6th, the American billionaire made history when he successfully launched his beloved Tesla Roadster into space, on board the world’s most powerful rocket, the Falcon Heavy. 

The goal was straightforward: to launch the rocket successfully. The addition of the Tesla was just ‘for fun’ according to Musk. In fact, Musk wasn’t expecting the rocket to make it off the ground at all, but it did, and in doing so, he opened up new possibilities in space travel, whilst cleverly promoting his struggling Tesla brand. 

Strapped inside the car was a spacesuit-wearing mannequin dubbed ‘Starman’, who was reminiscent of Top Gear’s The Stig. And there were some other nice references to popular culture. David Bowie’s Space Oddity blared through the speakers during launch, and a message on the Tesla’s dashboard read ‘don’t panic,’ in homage to Douglas Adams’ A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. There was also a disk carrying a digital copy of Isaac Asimov’s science fiction series Foundation in the glovebox, along with a plaque engraved with 6,000 SpaceX employees’ names.

Space age spectacle

The Falcon Heavy and its cherry red cargo, launched from Kennedy Space Centre, was watched by hundreds of thousands of people along Florida’s space coast, plus millions more online, as the launch was streamed live on YouTube. At its peak, the stream attracted 2.3 million viewers. The videos and re-uploads have since attracted tens of millions more views, and virtually every publication on the planet has written about the stunt.

Out of this world PR  

Musk gets global coverage for nearly everything he does, because he dares to be different. He’s constantly challenging the norm and has lofty goals beyond profit.

He’s a showman. Like Steve Jobs pulling the original MacBook Air out of an envelope back in 2008, the Tesla onboard the Falcon Heavy rocket was not necessary to make the event impressive, but let’s face it, the only way any car company is going to get better PR will be if they’re the first brand to land a car on Mars and have it do laps of the red planet.

Musk made the most of the PR opportunity. He created a buzz for the event on Twitter in the lead-up to launch day, keeping his 19 million followers updated on the flight profile of the rocket and the various delays to the launch, caused by high-altitude winds. He even engaged in some friendly banter with Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, whose own space company Blue Origin competes with SpaceX.

On launch day, soon after the 27-engine rocket roared into space, Musk tweeted a livestream link with the comment ‘apparently, there is a car in orbit around Earth’, followed by, ‘we’re doing OK for a bunch of monkeys. Humanity rocks’.

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For Musk, the stunt cross-promoted his brands perfectly: SpaceX got a heap of attention to promote its spacefaring work, and Tesla got to claim that it has the fastest car in the galaxy. It also diverted attention away from the bad PR associated with Tesla’s Model 3 production delays. It was a PR win all-round.

You can follow Starman and the Tesla Roadster in orbit via this YouTube feed.

Even without the money and influence of Elon Musk, you can still create an out-of-this-world PR stunt; you just need to think outside the box. Get in touch to brainstorm ideas.



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