Groping for a marketing solution: TSA and security theater

There's plenty of controversy about the new full body scanners that the TSA is installing at airports, and plenty more about the way some TSA agents are handling those that choose to opt out.

The heart of the matter comes from the fact that the TSA often doesn't understand that it is in show business, not security business. A rational look at the threats facing travelers would indicate that intense scrutiny of a four ounce jar of mouthwash or aggressive frisking of a child is a misplaced use of resources. If the goal is to find dangerous items in cargo or track down Stinger missiles, this isn't going to help.

Instead, the mission appears to be twofold:

1. Reassure the public that the government is really trying and

2. Keep random bad actors off guard by frequently raising the bar on getting caught

The challenge with #1 is that if people believe they're going to get groped, or get cancer, or have to wait in line even longer on Thanksgiving, they cease to be on your side. Particularly once they realize how irrational it is to try to stop a threat after it's already been perpetrated. (Imagine the havoc if someone had a brassiere-based weapon…)

And the challenge of #2 is that the cost of raising the bar gets higher and higher.

Smart marketers know how to pivot. I think it's time to do that. Start marketing the idea that flying is safe, like driving, but it's not perfect, like driving. If someone is crazy enough to hurt themselves or spend their life in jail, we're not going to stop them, and even if we did, they'd just cause havoc somewhere else. So instead of spending billions of dollars a year in time and money pretending, let's just get back to work.

The current model doesn't scale.