Subscribe to Make Magazine Today!

There is certainly lots to debate about corporate sponsorship of education and sponsored editorial content, in print and online. We have these debates all the time here at MAKE. And I’m sure educational organizations have equally tough choices to make in terms of getting the funding for great educational programs, money that companies are all too happy to provide, for a branding opportunity. It’s a dance, it can get awkward, but it can also be done right (we believe), it can be a win for everybody involved.

In most regards, this seems to be the case with the Sony/Intel sponsored Rocket Project. They took eight students from the California Academy for Math and Sciences, a magnate high school specializing in advanced science, and gave them an extraordinary opportunity — design, build, and launch a rocket into the stratosphere — all within 60 days, using Sony Vaio laptops to design and control the mission. The resulting rocket measures 29 feet tall, weighs over 500 pounds, and is capable of reaching the stratosphere. The students were crash-course-schooled in rocket science by Tom Atchison, Director of the Association of Rocket Mavericks, and a leading light in the high-power rocketry community.

The Rocket Project website and videos are a little overwrought for my taste, they feel too much like laptop commercials disguised as educational content, rather than educational videos sponsored by two tech companies. But in the midst of that, the story here, the journey these teens are on, seems genuine, and I’m sure they’re having an experience they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.

The rocket was supposed to launch today (7/22), but now it looks (according to a post on the Sony Electronics FB page) that the launch will happen within the next 24 to 48 hours. Can’t wait to see how it all turns out.

The Rocket Project

Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelancer writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor for Boing Boing and WINK Books. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.


  • mgspeed

    I disagree that the two attached commercials are overwrought with product placement. They only have the one set of title screens comparing to the original Apollo’s, and one or two shots of the laptops. There isn’t even any shot with some overly large Sony logo. While corporate funding can definitely be a razors edge issue, this seems very well done. Can you imagine the emotion these kids must be experiencing, or what this will look like on that college resume?

    • Gareth Branwyn

      I was referring to the entire campaign, not just these two videos. And I said overwrought (as in “overly complicated in design or construction”), not “overwrought with product placement.” I agree that, in toto, it’s not bad, but to me, that’s mainly because the rocket project and the kids are so great and their genuineness comes through so strongly. I think it’s a great program, I applaud Sony and Intel for doing it. Smart idea on their part. I just wish the production values were different and it didn’t feel so much like I was watching commercials. YMMV.

      And I agree, this campaign is very well done relative to some others. And for those who might poo-poo this type of overt corporate sponsorship/branding of an educational program (and I can appreciate such a reaction), the truth is, this sort of project would likely never happen within traditional educational funding.

  • Apis

    Adding sponsored articles and posting them as “normal” articles, here on the Make blog for example, is immoral in my opinion. I want to know when someone is trying to manipulate me into buying stuff. However, as long as it’s clear it’s advertising, I think it’s fine.

    I don’t know any of the details of this particular project, it must be really cool for the 8 kids who get to build this rocket. And again, as long as it’s clear to everyone involved that this is advertising I don’t think it’s a problem. I would have loved to get to do something like that as well.

    Still, in general, sponsoring in schools is probably not a good idea. Children shouldn’t be exposed to advertising in schools (where they are forced to go). And in the long run, Schools would get dependent on corporations who’s only goal is to sell more products, not provide good education.

    • Gareth Branwyn

      @Apis
      We don’t post “sponsored” articles and post them as “normal” here on MAKE. If we post a sponsored piece or series, we clearly mark it as such, and even with sponsored content, the sponsor gets no editorial control. We make that clear up front.

      For a site like MAKE, which is free to the reader, we need to generate revenue to keep the site going, and without these sponsorship campaigns and contests, and other forms of supported content, we wouldn’t be able to sustain ourselves. (Sites cannot live on vanilla banner ads alone.) Given that reality, we try to do it as honestly, openly, and as “stand-up” as possible.

      We also try to be creative in how we do it. I’m very proud of our recent Jameco Make: Robot Build (http://tinyurl.com/2ctrfyq) and Circuit Skills video series (http://tinyurl.com/25hbw3e). To me, these are great examples of advertising that also offers great content and real value to our readers. And the advertising isn’t beaten into your head.

      • Apis

        That sounds great. I understand the need for advertising and think it’s fine as long as it’s honest and isn’t forced down your throat (like telemarketing and billboards). I agree that the sponsored robot build and circuit skills was cool. :)

        • Gareth Branwyn

          It’s a delicate dance and something we put a lot of energy into trying to get right and trying to do creative things with. I have to hand it to our marketing folks. Doing all of these custom programs is a lot of extra work and extra negotiations on their part. But they do it because they too want to serve our readers in the best way possible, while still being able to sell advertising and make decent revenue. It’s not an easy row to hoe, I can assure you.