Coupling Security with Advertising at the TSA

Airport checkpoints create lines, pat-downs and occasional headaches for travelers. But now they're going to make something new.

Money.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will allow companies to sell ads inside plastic bins whose sole purpose so far has been to move passengers' shoes, cellphones and other belongings through X-ray machines.

Advertising companies and airports could reap millions from 12-inch-by-17-inch ads glued to the bottom of security bins. The TSA would benefit, too, from free equipment: The agency is requiring any company that sells the ads to stock airport checkpoints with new bins, carts and stainless steel tables.

"It creates a cleaner, smoother, more professional process," says TSA spokeswoman Ellen Howe.

Some airports fear a Burger King ad at a security checkpoint might distract passengers who should be emptying pockets and taking off coats.

In July, the TSA allowed a pilot ad program at Los Angeles International Airport. Bins at LAX feature Rolodex ads, but in the future they could tout anything from McDonald's to Microsoft.

"There definitely is a concern," says Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport spokesman Patrick Hogan. "We don't want to do anything that's going to confuse passengers. ... Any advertising needs to be subtle."

And then there's the question of advertising effectiveness. As passengers rush through checkpoints, a security bin "is not a particularly compelling location," says Mark Lieberman, co-CEO of Interspace Airport Advertising.

Bin ads could be sold at a large airport for $250,000 to $500,000 a year, Lieberman says, but passengers in checkpoints "would have a difficult time focusing on any message thrown at them."

Not so, says Joe Ambrefe Jr., president of SecurityPoint Media, a St. Petersburg, Fla. Company that sells an ad-laden bin called SecureTray. His bins are used at LAX.

"People have a heightened sense of awareness" at a checkpoint, he says. "Which means you're more open to a message."

SecurityPoint spent $250,000 at the airport to buy 3,000 new bins, 190 checkpoint tables and 288 carts on which bins are piled after use for easy wheeling from the end of a checkpoint to the front.

"It makes the lines move quicker," says airport spokesman Tom Winfrey. The airport got no money.

Ambrefe said other airports -- he has spoken to 40 -- could get a share of ad revenue. The TSA will approve airports to try out the ad program for a year.

Minneapolis airport officials heard SecurityPoint's pitch last week and are considering it. Ad revenue already provides the airport $1.5 million of its $270 million annual budget. "We want to make sure this is a good financial deal," spokesman Hogan says.

He recognizes bin ads could saturate ad-heavy terminals. "It's important to be careful about how much advertising we allow and where."


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