With Trace Hughes, SHS copywriting intern
One person’s unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is another person’s drone. More attention hardly needed to be drawn to the pilotless craft, much in the news for its use as a counter-terrorism strike weapon. But with President Obama’s recent address on drone policy at the National Defense University, the image problem looms overhead like the shadow of, well, a drone. And as we’ve listened to the spin and researched the future of UAVs, we realize someone is going to be faced with the challenge of repositioning the UAV. Given the task, here’s one place we’d start.
It’s an interesting advertising problem, however you feel about the use of vehicles as weapons. Drone technology is here to stay, like a lot of other commercial technology that originated in military use. It’s going to benefit the economy and create jobs in the private sector. But promoting the benign and productive uses of the UAV will be critical to public support and industry growth.
It wasn’t until 2012 that commercial drone use was legal, when the President signed a law authorizing the FAA to make room for UAVs in U.S. airspace. And while some smaller ventures have tried commercial drones, aerospace leaders have made few publicized moves into commercializing their UAVs.
Aerospace industry watchers have already begun to speak of the “drone economy.” The impact of this technology will not be felt primarily by law enforcement, as you might expect, but by agriculture, with such applications as highly specific crop-dusting, monitoring of crop growth and moisture, and disease detection. Recent posts on newyorker.com provide fascinating and compelling interactive charting of the dollar effect that commercial drones will have state-by-state. Kansas, for example, places seventh in the U.S. for projected economic impact of UAVs, because of the weight given to agriculture, even though it ranks 31st among states in overall GSP. California and Washington top the chart thanks to the combination of agriculture and aerospace industries, with Boeing tipping the scales for Washington.
Right now a lot of the commercial drone industry comprises small startups and individuals of who have ingenuity but neither the R&D nor capital of a major OEM. In Los Angeles, for example, a videographer and his $5,000 drone equipped with a high-resolution camera takes high-res aerial footage for real estate agents. The air is becoming dense with similar startups. But these are cable news bite features in the scheme of things. Weather monitoring, agriculture and surveillance will be the big ongoing stories.
So this is a significant new market with undetermined potential, as well as unforeseen marketing and image hurdles. Will your craving for a fresh enchilada overcome your fear of being spied on? That’s what Americans are worried about: the stuff that’s not on the menu. And that’s where marketing enters. It should be easy to push out positive messages on the fly, so to speak.
If consumers come to associate drones with real-time updates on severe weather or crop conditions – or even border control that reduces the expense and the fence – then gradually the UAV will become as familiar and civilian-friendly as the Hummer. And if you hear the drone of the drone and to your ears it’s the song of jobs, jobs, jobs, then the negative image will fade into the distance with the days when your folks feared the Internet. Same folks who can’t live without Facebook updates on their grandkids.
The UAV market should really break open in 2015, when the FAA is set to have regulations established for drones in domestic airspace. Are marketers and manufacturers ready? The groundwork for positive image campaigning should be laid now by those who will also develop new uses and improvements on the UAVs themselves: the same OEMs who have diversified their aerospace applications into non-aerospace-related manufacturing, energy production and extraction, health care, communications – jobs, jobs, jobs.
Aviation, aerospace and defense companies are driving manufacturing back to the U.S. We’re going to look at more aerospace-derived products and marketing in future blogs. Come back to Uptake for more. And give us your take.
Trace Hughes, SHS copywriting intern and SHS scholar at Wichita State University’s Elliott School of Communications, spent five years of his U.S. Air Force service providing data and targeting information to UAVs and their crews. Trace researched and co-wrote this article.