Last week hundreds of thousands of Iranians spent a non-trivial amount of time looking at the moon due to a rumor according to which Pepsi Cola would project its official logo on the moon using powerful laser beams. The rumor was spread on social networks and a number of websites at the same time as Iran’s media reported the transit of Venus across the sun, which took place on June 6.
On June 6, journalist and blogger Farvartish Rezvaniyeh wrote on his personal blog that he was amazed by the number of telephone calls and messages he had received in the past several days about the projection of the Pepsi logo on the moon. He said that some of the people who wrote to him believed him to be responsible for spreading the rumor, while others asked him to inform the public that it was just a rumor even if he was not involved in spreading it, because “people need to work”. The blogger stressed that he had nothing to do with spreading the rumor, noted that he didn’t understand how it is possible to see the logo of any particular company on the moon, and called on Iranians to stay home and move on with their lives (http://farvartish.wordpress.com, June 6).
On June 5 the issue was also reported on the ISNA website. The news agency reported that the logo would appear at 11:30 PM Iranian time, and could be seen from Iran and other places in the Middle East for 15 minutes. In addition to the report itself, ISNA cited the reactions of academia experts to the coming event.
Dr. Mohammad Karami, a lecturer on public relations and advertising at the Kermanshah University of Technology, said in an interview given to ISNA that this was an unprecedented event that ushered the world of advertising into a new phase, an advertising stunt intended to help Pepsi Cola in its commercial fight against Coca Cola. He estimated that the projection of the American company’s logo on the moon would have a considerable influence on the sales of its products, and said that, even before the actual event, Photoshop images showing the company logo on the moon had been posted on many websites. However, he had reservations about a commercial company making use of the moon for advertising, saying that in many cultures the moon is considered a symbol of beauty and peace, which is why it is inappropriate to use the moon, which belongs to all the people of Earth, for the needs of commercial companies. He expressed his concern that, in the future, technological advances will make it possible to fill the sky with the commercials of large companies (ISNA, June 5).
On June 6, the Entekhab news website reported with surprise that hundreds of thousands of Iranians believed the unfounded rumor and spent many hours looking at the moon and waiting for the projection of the Pepsi logo. The website reported that many people continued looking at the sky after 11:30 PM, with some even claiming that perhaps the logo would appear later due to the time difference between Iran and Western countries.
The website expressed astonishment at the number of Iranians who believed the rumor, saying that it is not the first time many Iranians have fallen for unfounded rumors. According to Entekhab, this shows how gullible Iranians are, and how likely they are to trust unfounded information, a tendency which has become even more pronounced with the advent of technology. The website called on the authorities to investigate who is responsible for spreading the false rumor (Entekhab, June 6).
On June 6 the initial report on the upcoming event was taken off the ISNA website. The news agency shortly replaced it with a new report about the massive effect produced by the rumor. Only two days after ISNA had interviewed a researcher who gave his commentary on the “event” that was to take place on the moon, the news agency interviewed two other researchers who said that it is a shame that many Iranians tend to believe unfounded rumors. The space science researcher Shahram Yazdanpanah expressed his regret over the fact that many people prefer to believe unscientific rumors and information they obtain through unofficial channels, such as text messages and emails. He noted that even intellectuals are not immune to this phenomenon, which, he said, stems from cultural reasons.
Dr. Mehdi Zare, the deputy chairman of the International Institute of Earthquake Engineering and Seismology in Tehran, said that it’s sad how, 999 years after the ground-breaking astronomical discoveries of the Iranian scientist Ibn Sina (Avicenna), so many Iranians believe such pseudoscientific rumors. He noted that it is scientific ignorance that provides the bedrock for belief in such rumors, and that any person with basic scientific understanding should have understood that it’s impossible to project the logo of any company on the moon (ISNA, June 7).
This is not the first time that moon-related rumors have stirred interest in Iran. In late November 1978, just before Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of the Islamic revolution, came back to Iran after 14 years in exile, there were rumors in Iran that the face of the high-ranking cleric would appear on the moon. Many Iranians excitedly gathered on rooftops to observe the phenomenon. Even though the rumor was denied, many people still reported that they had, in fact, seen the image of the revolution leader on the moon.