Marketing Via Fear: US & Canadian governments doing a bang-up job selling dubious “security” at airports

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Here we go again, with another Hollywood-style plot containing ridiculous reaction, such as the previous totally useless requirements to stay in your seats for the last hour of your flight, and now we have Canadian Keystone Cops installing scanners that will see through your clothes but will have almost no chance of finding PETN (or any powder), which was the explosive in the last two airline bombing attempts. All of this, of course, is to appease the Government Fear Mongers in the USA. The “sitting in your seat” requirement would have been useless on Christmas day, as the guy could have gone to the bathroom 70 minutes before landing. Where is Jack Bauer, as this requirement was about as logical as a 24 episode?

Then, for a few days following this attempt, politicians on both sides of the 49th Parallel thought they had to grandstand by preventing Canadians from entering the US unless they all got frisked Starsky and Hutch Style after 6 to 9 hours of waiting. Give me a break!

This knee-jerk reaction by both US and Canadian governments is all “security theatre” according to security expert Bruce Schneier. In fact, these expensive and intrusive machines will likely not find the explosive that was used in the last two attempts: Christmas and the Shoe Bomber. So, these will not keep you “safer.” UPDATE 11 January 2010: EPIC, a privacy group, revealed that these machines can store images and transfer them via USB; the TSA has been denying this since Day 1. If not a bald-faced lie, it is a gross inaccuracy. In fact, the TSA required the manufacturers to include a hard drive, USB port and ability to network via Ethernet in the design.

It’s all a smokescreen to make you feel safer. If you don’t realize that, and meekly say (as many do), “well, if it makes passengers safer, OK…” you are as much at fault as the government in losing your rights and privacy. On PBS Newshour, former US Senator Slade Gordon, who was on the 9/11 Commission, said that we cannot rely on security screenings at the airport — which he says should be the last hurdle for any terrorist — to be where we catch bad guys, but that is what has been occurring. He said these people should be barred from even getting through the security gate, let alone walk through any scanners, but that our current Intelligence is failing at that.

This week, we learned that TSA neglected to turn on the videotape recorder in Newark airport for more than a week. True story: I was once chased down in Louisville KY airport because my luggage, which was secured by a special TSA-approved lock that only TSA could open, was selected for inspection, but the dummies lost their master key. These people are protecting us? Trained monkeys could likely do better.

The Australian newspaper calls this Mickey Mouse Air Security: “The TSA engages in bumbling pretend-steps that treat all passengers equally rather than risk offending anyone by focusing, say, on religion. The alternative approach is Israelification, defined by Toronto’s Star newspaper as ‘a system that protects life and limb without annoying you to death.'”

Ben Gurion airport is arguably the safest in the world due to their use of Behavioral Screening, a system El Al Airlines uses in other airports, including those on this side of the Atlantic. But in politically correct Canada and the US, we need to treat Grandma and the war veteran with the artificial leg as if they they are potential terrorists, just because their number came up? That is ridiculous. A retired teacher from Peoria has about as much chance as my cat as being a danger. You are also being hassled due to the Intelligence community’s colossal failures. The airport cannot be the place where the bad guys get stopped, and we cannot rely on technology to do so, as the TSA chimpanzees do.

These new expensive scanners will not easily detect explosives such as PETN. Conventional chemical testing, sniffer dogs, “puffer” machines, x-rays and well-trained staff are the only methods that would. As Schneier pointed out on CBS’ 60 Minutes a few months ago, the ban on liquids is silly as it is now performed: If TSA finds liquids, they simply throw them into a bin that sits there all day until it’s emptied into the garbage. They’re not tested, nor even inspected by a TSA agent to determine if it’s nasty stuff. In a large airport, a bad guy could simply exit, get some more explosive from a buddy, and get re-screened via different screening points with no chance of discovery until TSA misses it… and government audits say they likely will.

Governments know all this! It’s just an illusion to make you feel safe. So, if it’s an illusion, then the validity of prostrating yourself naked before these machines needs to be questioned. If the use of these multi-million dollar machines has no security or safety merits, then why would we agree to it?

In fact, we are much more safe in an airport or airplane than we are walking our streets, even with pre-Christmas TSA policies. There was a robbery involving a handgun on the street not 200 yards from the entrance to my suburban Atlanta townhouse complex Monday night, and now the Georgia government is considering allowing concealed firearms on university campuses. The US government doesn’t do much to curtail this kind of home grown terrorism and fear. We have found the terrorist, and it is us.

Eerily timely; from an essay published a month ago by Bruce Schneier: “Terrorism is rare, far rarer than many people think. It’s rare because very few people want to commit acts of terrorism, and executing a terrorist plot is much harder than television makes it appear. The best defenses against terrorism are largely invisible: investigation, intelligence, and emergency response. But even these are less effective at keeping us safe than our social and political policies, both at home and abroad. However, our elected leaders don’t think this way: they are far more likely to implement security theater against movie-plot threats… If we spend billions defending our rail systems, and the terrorists bomb a shopping mall instead, we’ve wasted our money. If we concentrate airport security on screening shoes and confiscating liquids, and the terrorists hide explosives in their brassieres and use solids, we’ve wasted our money.” When will this end? Body cavity searches? A 300 foot wall around the USA?

Politicians, are you listening to the experts? And I’m not talking about the paid talking heads on CNN and Fox. Obviously our governments are not listening after the Christmas weekend’s panicked fiasco from the Obama administration. Nobody in Washington even controls the “lists.” They have no idea who is on it, or why.  A 4-year-old girl was identified as a terrorist last year, and 8 year old Mikey Hicks is frisked every time he flies. This has been happening with Michael for 6 years. Before the government inconveniences everyone by frisking every foreign inbound passenger — with no result — the US must fix its Intelligence infrastructure, which is hopelessly broken.

Otherwise, “Panic Nation” will continue.

In their 8 years of existence, the US TSA has yet to find one single terrorist, although they excel at harassing 80-year-old ladies and children. During the only two occasions where there was an attempt, they and their so-called “Intelligence” brethren screwed up badly, and often miss things when tested by other government agencies or John Q. Public when he later discovers he forgot about the Swiss Army Knife in the bottom of his carry-on that TSA completely missed. I dare say Boy Scouts could be better TSA agents, with the Dutch guy on the plane as their boss, and a high school computer science class controlling the lists.

Now, the US and Canada plan to inconvenience all passengers with intrusive, degrading technology, and the Americans are even trying to force the Canadian government to provide the names of passengers boarding planes directly bound for other countries that only overfly the US without landing, which is a direct, conscious affront to Canada’s sovereignty.

“The price of liberty is too high,” said Kate Hanni, founder of in a January 4 2010 Washington Post article. She shuttles regularly between her California home and Washington to lobby Congress. Hanni said many of her group’s 25,000 members are concerned that “the full-body scanners may not catch the criminals and will subject the rest of us to intrusive and virtual strip searches.” The TSA says the image covers up the naughty bits, but that is exactly where the Christmas Bomber had the stuff stashed. So, what’s the point?

As many security analysts have mentioned, people bent on killing people should and must be discovered even before they get to the airport, but the US Intelligence community is so bureaucratically disjointed and competitive, and their so-called security lists are so inaccurate and incomplete, that they can’t be trusted.

So, to those of you saying, “do this, do that, buy this equipment,” we will spend more billions, and then the terrorists will find another vulnerability. The window dressing continues. Did you know that the National Guard troops “guarding” US airports after 9/11 had no bullets? Yes, really. It’s all a ruse to deflect government criticism, and to beat their chests while saying “Yes, We Are Your Defenders!” It’s all a smokescreen. If you don’t realize that, and say, “well, yes, if will keep me safer,” you are a sheep. Or a lemming.

According to CNN, the government says there was enough explosive to blow a hole in the side of the plane. However, they don’t say how — such as how it would need to be packaged to do so or if it was even possible by being strapped to a human in underwear. PETN is extremely stable. Flicking your Bic won’t do it.

The top levels of the US Department of Homeland Security and their counterparts in the US Intelligence agencies, whether under Bush or Obama, are a bunch of politicized fools, while the non-thinking automatons at TSA carry out their silly but oh-so-public regulations.

Now, Canada has joined the Mickey Mouse ranks with this expensive, politicized and unnecessary purchase of these machines. Inspector Clouseau is now running Canadian air safety, just as he has been doing in the USA for 8 years.

UPDATE November 16 2011:  Effective today, the European Union has banned these same machines for serious health concerns — effectively, they can cause skin cancer.  Gee, we were told they were perfectly safe.  The US and Canadian governments wouldn’t lie to us about our travel safety.  Would they?

Takeaways to consider…

Why is this related to marketing? Fear is one of the best ways to sell someone on a product. Fear is what is driving Americans and Canadians towards giving up their freedoms.

Fear marketers paint the picture of what your life might be like if you don’t get their product. They play into already existing fears, or paint new ones that consumers may never have considered. The end result is the consumer perception that the advertised product or service is a necessity to keep their family safe, make their life less dangerous, or avoid a situation they dread. But should we do it? Doesn’t this type of marketing just add to the plague of society, fostering fear and making us a weaker people as a result? Probably – but the problem with fear marketing is that it often works. – Influential Marketing Blog

Scaring people (scaring good customers) to make $100 is stupid. It hurts your brand. It makes it less likely they’ll open the envelope next time. And most of all, it’s wrong.  You can do it, no one can stop you. You shouldn’t do it, though, because you burn brand trust and you can’t get it back. – Seth Godin

Seven key emotional drivers that change human behavior: flattery, fear, greed, anger, guilt, exclusivity and salvation.
– Denny Hatch

Government by fear is no government at all. -  John Adams

Jonathan Blaine

I've always called myself a "Marketing Guy." If I had a brand and logo, perhaps that would be my slogan. Measuring ROI is huge. Just because you're now using "new media" does not mean marketing fundamentals should be discarded. Customers' desires do not change. I'm a "right-brained creative analytical" guy (if you can fathom such a thing) who looks at a project several different ways. My first instinct is usually the correct one. I'm a "doer," and often a "diplomatic fixer;" someone who gets things done and still gets a thrill out of customers actually buying something because of something I mailed to them, or an ad I placed. Most of my success has come from strategy, writing, how ideas are presented to the potential customer and the actual thoughts that somehow originate within the ether between my ears. As a fan of DM guru Denny Hatch, I believe that the brand should never outweigh the message, and that art should never win over copy. The mix has to be “just right.” And continually tested. I have solid ryttan, err, written and verbal communication skills, and a reputation for consistently producing cost-effective quality work.

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