Space clown dwarfs Afghan war

Canada’s first space clown can brag that his recent trip into the cosmos generated at least 23 times more international news coverage this year than this country’s mission in Afghanistan.

Russian search and rescue service specialists carry space tourist Canadian billionaire Guy Laliberte after landing with The Soyuz spacecraft crew members in October.

MONTREAL — Canada’s first space clown can brag that his recent trip into the cosmos generated at least 23 times more international news coverage this year than this country’s mission in Afghanistan.

At least that’s according to a calculation done by a media research group hired by Guy Laliberte, the Cirque du soleil founder who recently became the country’s first space tourist.

The Quebec billionaire hired Montreal-based Influence Communication to look at radio, TV, newspaper and Internet coverage from 71 countries of his cosmic voyage.

The firm has released analysis that it would have cost C$592,425,679 to buy that much advertising space for Laliberte and his environmental foundation.

The Cirque founder originally shelled out US$35 million for his extraterrestrial flight, suggesting a rather nifty return on investment of more than 1,500 per cent.

Laliberte blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Sept. 30, and spent 11 days travelling or aboard the International Space station.

Jean Lambert, a senior analyst at Influence, says his firm began its tracking on June 4th, the day Laliberte held a news conference to officially announce his trip.

Through mid-October, it counted approximately 41,000 reports about Laliberte and his One Drop environmental foundation.

It estimated the play on newspaper pages, on the airwaves, and on websites to be equivalent to half a billion advertising dollars.

By way of comparison, Canada’s mission in Afghanistan — the most significant and gruelling international undertaking by this country since the Korean War — showed up in 1,812 news items over the entire year, from January to mid-October.

“(It’s) not to belittle the importance in international media of Canada’s presence in Afghanistan,” Lambert said. “But this got 23 times more space or time coverage in the media than Canada’s presence in Afghanistan.”

And he noted that coverage of the space mission was measured over only four months from June to October, while stories about the Afghan mission were measured over 10 months.

“The percentage would have been ever larger in favour of Laliberte if we just took the period from June to October,” Lambert said.

Karl Moore, a McGill University management professor, compares Laliberte to another billionaire: the “flamboyant” Richard Branson, founder of Virgin records, “one of the great marketers in the world.”

“This is a guy who knows, thanks to his Cirque du soleil experience, how to get that kind of coverage and make the most of it,” Moore said in an interview.

“Maybe the numbers are overstated a bit, but I think that there is actually a fair bit of reality to them.”

Moore suggests Laliberte’s story got even more coverage thanks to his red clown’s nose, which he used as a colourful photographic prop.

The contrast could hardly be more stark with Afghanistan — where Canada is one of several NATO countries figuring in the mission, and where the daily drip of disheartening news might leave readers numb.

“It (Afghanistan) is a sobering thing that, by and large, we don’t want to think about — whereas this is kind of a fun topic and it’s one that doesn’t scare us off,” he said. “So, I’m not surprised that this is one of the great events this year for Canada.”

Moore says the media tended to pick up Laliberte because “it gives us a bit of relief from the sheer seriousness of our daily lives.”

From outer space, the Cirque founder conducted a series of events around the world designed, he said, to raise awareness about protecting water.

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