Space, the final frontier, is about to get a corporate sponsorship.
Fort Worth-based RadioShack Corp. is teaming up with a small, Virginia-based space exploration start-up to put a robotic rover on the moon in 2003 sporting the RadioShack logo.
Dubbed the "Icebreaker," the lunar rover will search for ice deposits in the permanently dark spots on the moon, such as craters, in an attempt to locate possible fuel sources for space travel.
"It's an unorthodox form of brand sponsorship," acknowledged Jim McDonald, senior vice president of marketing and advertising for RadioShack. "But it's very difficult in this day and age to break through the clutter."
Under the terms of the deal announced Thursday, the giant electronics retailer will provide LunaCorp with money to finance the expedition. In return, RadioShack gets to place the company logo on the rover as well as in several terrestrial venues.
LunaCorp, based in Arlington, Va., hopes to bankroll its mission through corporate sponsorships, government contracts and other revenue-generating efforts. Its agreement calls for an annual investment by RadioShack of at least $1 million.
The arrangement is not the first aimed at carrying a corporate brand out of Earth's atmosphere. In November, Dallas-based Pizza Hut Inc. â€“ a unit of Tricon Global Restaurants Inc. â€“ slapped its logo on the side of a Russian rocket delivering parts for the International Space Station.
But in contrast with Pizza Hut, RadioShack is sketching a broader, ongoing campaign in space.
Mr. McDonald said the company wants to link the lunar mission to RadioShack's Web site as well as create relevant product placement within the company's 7,100 electronics stores nationwide.
Web surfers will be able to log on to RadioShack's Web site and, with Icebreaker transmitting over a broadband connection with mission control, watch real-time video footage as the rover explores the lunar surface.
The video will be downloaded to RadioShack stores equipped with RCA's home digital theater demonstrations.
And RadioShack plans to develop interactive Icebreaker-related displays in science museums across the country.
David Goldstein, president of Dallas-based Channel Marketing Corp., hailed the concept.
"It brings an association with technology and science, and that ties in with RadioShack's main business," he said.
Dr. Dan Howard, a professor of marketing at Southern Methodist University's Cox School of Business, also sees dividends. "RadioShack is looking for a favorable rub-off effect," he said.
But one potential pitfall, he suggested, is in a too-close association between RadioShack and LunaCorp should the rover technology falter. Consumers might be confused about RadioShack's role because the company is in the technology business itself â€“ not just as a sponsor, Dr. Howard said.
"We're not talking about a car race where Marlboro's name is on a hat or on the side of an automobile, and the average consumer understands that Marlboro had nothing to do with the technology that went into that car," Dr. Howard said.
Not so, Mr. Goldstein said.
"RadioShack is a well-enough-established brand that consumers won't be confused," he said. "Even if there is some confusion, that would be a positive, not a negative."
Mr. McDonald said RadioShack is not looking on this investment as a one-time deal.
"We are interested in a long-term involvement relative to space exploration," he said. "I personally would love to do something in the realm of live advertising from outer space or the moon."
Victor Godinez is a free-lance writer based in Irving.