PITCHES AND TROUGHS. 100 BEST STORIES.
This story qualfies for the bizarre. It took place nearly twenty years ago when the advent of ‘glaznost’ signalled a thaw in relations with the Soviet Union. It started with a call from the President of the Moscow Narodny bank, based in London, one of the few commercial organisations then operating in the West.
Intrigued, I went along to a briefing where I met General Danyev, a grizzled veteran of the Soviet military. He was involved in running the Soviet Space agency, at that time probably leading the US in activity level. During the briefing, carried out through an interpreter, the general would rub forefinger and thumb together, the universal sign for ‘money’. He was not, as I first thought, seeking personal reward. He was signalling a commercial opportunity for western sponsors!
The first brief was to identify a sponsor, such as Coke, who could emblazon their brand all over the exterior of a space mission. When scientists pointed out that thousands of degrees heat at blast-off would obliterate any branding, the general came up with another idea. It was to run an ad campaign to recruit potential astronauts from the British public.
Before Saatchi’s creative work could be pitched to him there was a 9 month delay. Our London based client, the bank president, was ordered back to Moscow in one of the tit-for-tat spy scandals common at the time.
On his return, which surprised us, he was presented a campaign plan of full pages to appear once in all main newspapers, a name, Mission Juno, and a totally brilliant, long bodycopy, ad written by Simon Dicketts. The headline “ASTRONAUT WANTED. NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY”.
17,000 coupon responses came in. Some 3000 were then invited to complete a detailed questionnaire. 500 were screened in interviews before a final three were selected for training at the Space Agency. One of these, Helen Sharman, became the first British cosmonaut.