It’s harder than ever to find a spot on Earth that hasn’t been turned into a marketing opportunity. Everything from park benches to high school gymnasiums now comes with commercial sponsors, and ads have been popping up in restaurant bathrooms and even at the end of personal e-mails. So maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that advertising is now claiming the final frontier. A science consortium called the European Incoherent Scatter Scientific Association runs a space center on an Arctic Ocean archipelago that transmits signals into outer space, on the outside chance there are species out there who might be listening. For the first time, the scientists have teamed up with a sponsor, Doritos maker Frito-Lay, which has invited the British public to submit 30-second commercials about life on this Doritos-munching planet of ours. The winning entry will be transmitted via ultra-high-frequency radar to a solar system 42 light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major, which scientists say could be teeming with life forms.
If so, what will they think of a planet whose most ambitious scientific endeavors are sponsored by a snack food—and a hideously orange one at that? Will they assume Doritos play a central role in our civilization, and how will that affect their posture toward us? On Earth, it would certainly be thrilling news to discover that there’s intelligent life out there. But should the good citizens of Ursa Major receive a message “brought to you by Doritos,” they may just wonder whether to wait a millennia or two to respond, until the sending civilization leaves the Dark Ages and reaches a higher level of consciousness. - Eric Effron