TSA ads aim to get fliers on board with security measures

WASHINGTON -- The group that created Smokey Bear and McGruff the Crime Dog has a new potential icon: Stephanie the airport screener.

A $1.3 million ad campaign launched this month teams the Ad Council and the Transportation Security Administration trying to change behavior of passengers who no longer automatically accept post-Sept. 11 airport security procedures. The public relations push explains the terrorist threat and the reasons behind annoyances at checkpoints.

A passenger focus group conducted for TSA by New York City business consulting firm Blue Lime found that "unquestioning compliance has diminished." Passengers say they are more afraid of missing their flight than they are of an airplane being attacked, the 73-page Blue Lime report found.

In a 97-second video, Washington National Airport screener Stephanie Naar gently explains that homemade bombs "are the No. 1 threat to aircraft, and we know terrorists have concealed these items in shoes." The TSA hopes to make passengers more accepting of removing footwear at checkpoints.

"Part of our effort here is to develop a spirit of cooperation," TSA spokeswoman Ellen Howe said.

The campaign also tries to prepare inexperienced travelers for screening. "It will help to relieve a lot of stress and anxiety people have when they're traveling," Ad Council CEO Peggy Conlon said.

In a spot on why passengers can carry only 3-ounce bottles onto airplanes, Naar calmly says, "Liquid explosives are still a risk to aircraft."

The campaign grew out of comments that passengers made to Blue Lime in five focus groups in late 2007 that revealed wide disrespect for screeners and uncertainty about security procedures. Passengers called screeners "power trippers" and "rude/cold." Blue Lime urged the TSA to boost public confidence in screeners and in security.

Because fear has receded since Sept. 11, the TSA needs a new "spirit of cooperation" with passengers, Blue Lime said. Explaining security procedures to passengers "should translate to greater compliance," the company concludes.

The year-long campaign features 10-second radio spots in 12 major cities directing listeners to its website for travel tips, and videos that the non-profit Ad Council is placing on strategic websites.

In addition to the ads, the TSA has been training screeners to better interact with passengers, urging them not to shout across security lanes and to chat quietly and warmly with people in line, Howe said.