Mars Sucks: Why an LA Ad Agency Trolled Elon Musk on Earth Day

Ben Bergman

Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.

Mars Sucks: Why an LA Ad Agency Trolled Elon Musk on Earth Day

Most of the marketing around Earth Day is centered around our beautiful, yet delicate, planet. But a Los Angeles purpose-driven creative agency launched a cheeky campaign that focuses on the unappealing alternative – Mars.

The agency paid for a digital billboard to go live on Earth Day across from SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, CA, with the caption: "Mars Sucks." (A representative for Mars declined to comment.)

"We wanted to make a statement that would catch the world's attention, with the sole purpose of encouraging people to see the importance of prioritizing Earth," wrote Paco Conde and Beto Fernandez, founders of the agency Activista, in a joint email to dot.LA. "With SpaceX and Elon Musk representing Mars, the digital billboard outside SpaceX's HQ gave us a unique opportunity to make our statement that Mars can wait, but Earth can't – all in good humour, with a wink and a smile."

SpaceX is aiming to ferry tourists to Mars as soon as 2024.While seen as the most likely other planet in our solar system to host intelligent life, the Red Planet leaves a lot to be desired – with no breathable air, temperatures averaging a chilly -8 F and going as low as -220F, and punishing dust storms lasting months on end.

Conde and Fernandez say they are baffled as to why billionaires such as Musk and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos are so intent on going to Mars.

"We see some of the smartest and richest people on this planet dreaming of Mars," they wrote. "A hellhole that sucks. Really? Imagine if we had these same brilliant minds putting their genius into the climate crisis we're facing right now."

While the billboard will only be on display for 24 hours – until 6am PST Friday – a website and social media campaign will live on with the anti-Mars message. Visitors to the website are encouraged to donate to environmental groups.

Elon Musk has not responded to the billboard but plenty of others worldwide, including Russia's state news agency, have taken note on social media.

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Office Hours: Virta Health’s Sami Inkinen on Changing How Type 2 Diabetes Is Perceived and Treated

Spencer Rascoff

Spencer Rascoff serves as executive chairman of dot.LA. He is an entrepreneur and company leader who co-founded Zillow, Hotwire, dot.LA, Pacaso and Supernova, and who served as Zillow's CEO for a decade. During Spencer's time as CEO, Zillow won dozens of "best places to work" awards as it grew to over 4,500 employees, $3 billion in revenue, and $10 billion in market capitalization. Prior to Zillow, Spencer co-founded and was VP Corporate Development of Hotwire, which was sold to Expedia for $685 million in 2003. Through his startup studio and venture capital firm, 75 & Sunny, Spencer is an active angel investor in over 100 companies and is incubating several more.

Virta Health’s Sami Inkinen
Image courtesy Virta Health

Sami Inkinen’s first taste of entrepreneurship was running an online bulletin board system from a farm in Finland.

On this episode of Office Hours, the Virta Health founder and CEO joins host Spencer Rascoff to discuss how to find a compatible co-founder and how his own health scare inspired his latest company.

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Prediction: Cities Have Learned a Lot From COVID. In 2023, More Will Tailor Their Infrastructure Toward Micromobility

Horace Dediu
Horace Dediu is the co-founder of the media platform Micromobility Industries and the coiner of the term "micromobility."
micromobility graphic ​
Evan Xie

Over the last two years, the COVID crisis had an unexpected effect in urban centers all over the world: drivers lost space, in the form of car parking and lanes, while riders of bikes, scooters and other forms of micromobility vehicles gained space in the form of bike lanes. At the same time, cities began to realize electric cars are not the solution.

In 2023, policymakers will double down on what they’ve seen work: infrastructure that makes travel cheaper, safer and easier — and micromobility options that make better use of cities’ limited space.

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Prediction: Here’s How Brands Will Find Their Way Around the Social Media ‘Platform Tax’ in 2023
Image by Evan Xie

I spoke with a guy the other day who runs a $60-million-per-year ecommerce business. I asked what his number one problem is today.

His answer: “I’m paying Google and Meta 30% of every dollar in revenue. I know customers love my product, and I’d love to have a more direct connection with them.”

Truth is, I hear this all the time from marketers at business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) brands . And it’s not just those two players. TikTok, Snapchat, LinkedIn and others have built powerful platforms that keep users locked in, turning these sites into de facto gatekeepers for brands.

We call it the “platform tax.” You want to sell something digitally? You need to pay a platform for access first.

With the shaky economic outlook for 2023, many brands are cutting back their media dollars and seeking new avenues to reach potential customers.

We spent the first five years at Influicity helping brands work with influencers, including movie studios, consumer goods, automotive brands and so on. At its essence, these brands were tapping into communities that influencers had built using platforms that could provide massive scale.

Social marketing’s next evolution will see brands building their own communities. And these communities are directly tied to revenue. Here’s how they’ll do it:

Working Directly with Influencers

Content creators are a phenomenal community builder because they drive consumer attention while lending a halo to the brand. Influencers come in all shapes and sizes — from the micro, such as the neighborhood soccer mom to the mega, such as the reality show star.

We see more brands leaning towards long-term relationships with influencers to generate authentic and continuous demand. They’ll do this by partnering with individual influencers on longer term commitments (i.e. 6-12 months) with exclusive requirements (i.e. you can’t work with my competitors during this period).

A good example of this is apparel brand Hollister Co, who works with a group of about 30 influencers on live streams and custom collections.

We see brands doing this on the social platforms as well as other channels, like podcasts and email.

Turning to Podcasts

Massive communities have been built through podcasts: Joe Rogan, Lex Fridman and Alexandra Cooper, to name a few.

A brand example of this is RestoTalk, a podcast from restaurant-tech company TouchBistro. This podcast is hosted by Food Network star Justin Warner and has a loyal following of restaurant industry pros. (Disclosure: TouchBistro is a client of Influicity)

Another example is HubSpot, which acquired the podcast My First Million to reach the entrepreneurship community.

Podcasts avoid the platform tax because users can download or stream them directly from their favorite podcast app, like Apple Podcasts or Spotify. Brands only need to cover server fees.

Some marketers get tripped up because they think their podcast should be about their brand. It shouldn't. Your podcast should be about what your ideal customer cares about. Running a food brand? Talk about recipes and meal prep. Have a construction company? Talk about architecture and building innovations.

There are lots of opportunities for brands that put in the time.

Building a Rapport By Email

It was old, then it was new, then it was old —now it’s new again. When done right, regular emailing can actually be a great community builder. They can become a part of the user’s daily ritual. And they can work with many different formats including text, photo and video.

Email can easily be the largest single revenue driver for consumer brands. It can also help B2B brands build a sales pipeline.

Consumer apparel brands like and (full disclosure: both are clients of mine) have daily emails that drive hefty ecommerce sales. On the B2B side, analytics company Ahrefs offers a weekly newsletter that is very popular with search marketing professionals.

Email is also one of the few non-interceptable communication vehicles. No news feed algorithm is going to filter out your message. You can’t be de-platformed, and you don’t need to pay for access to an inbox.

Organic Reach on Platforms

The same platforms that charge for access are also your best allies in creating communities: TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and the rest.

I know brand leaders will complain that their content is getting filtered out and only seen by 2% of their followers.

So here’s a secret from first-hand experience: I get 500K to 1 million impressions per month (free) on LinkedIn. And it’s not luck.

It's a deliberate exercise in figuring out what the platform wants to surface and playing into that theme. And you need to do this while staying true to your own brand.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, one or more of these channels could be a vital part of your brand’s communication strategy. As 2023 rolls around, take the time to experiment with the right mix. It’s not an easy balance, but it’s critical to building a community of your customers.