May 30, 2019

Your Attention, Please: How to Improve TSA Travel Messages for Impact

What would business travel look like if every tourist and family of five knew precisely how to speed through the security checkpoint and didn’t fumble with their iPads, strollers and forgotten water bottle? When it comes to guiding actions and changing behavior, words matter, especially for airport and train security. Words can shave precious minutes and improve the screening process in security lines that need all the help they can get.

At Persado, we see the value in words every single day. Using our marketing language database — the largest in the world — our clients improve engagement by leaps and bounds by allowing our machine to cherry-pick the precise words, phrases and sentences that best appeal to an audience or individual across channels and the customer journey.

The concept “Words Matter” can be applied in multiple facets. What you say and how you say it can make a world of difference.

Think about the last time you were in an airport. Other than an announcement that your flight is boarding, do you really remember anything else that was announced the PA system? Did you tune it out? Perhaps the words were generic and just didn’t prompt you to look up from answering emails or pause during a conference call. Or, maybe you heard the announcements but didn’t find them friendly.  

What if the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) took a different approach? Persado research shows emotion contributes to roughly 60 percent of the success of a marketing message, which includes clicks and email opens. What if the TSA harnessed that knowledge and rewrote their messages?

They don’t have to. We did it for them. Take a look at better ways to phrase TSA announcements.

Don’t leave your bags unattended.

-> Important security reminder: You should keep your bags with you at all times.

This is an important but sometimes ignored rule when traveling — who wants to lug a duffle bag to make a quick, last-minute run to the airport newsstand? But, unattended luggage can be stolen or pose a security concern. To make this message more meaningful, the TSA should start with an introductory phrase. Persado classifies statements such as “Important security reminder” as Anxiety-evoking because they alert people to the importance of a message and serve as wake-up calls. A Financial Services company might try something such as “Brace yourselves, wanderlusters: We’ve just added major travel rewards to the Blue card.”

The rewritten message also uses the word “you,” which personalizes it and switches from an imperative sentence to a declarative sentence. This is more positive. The message also gets more specific by telling people what to do with their bags — keep them with them — rather than vaguely saying “not to leave them unattended,” which means many things including, “have a stranger watch them for you.”

Do not accept bags from strangers.

-> You’re kindly reminded not to accept bags from anyone you don’t know. Thank you for helping us keep our airports safe.

It’s commonplace to ask someone to watch your bags while you run to grab a bite to eat or to the restroom, especially if you are traveling alone. But it’s safer to simply take your bags with you. There’s a friendlier way to put it. The revamped message utilizes one of the top performing emotions by thanking listeners: Gratitude, which expresses knowledge, appreciation or affection in a positive way. The statement also presents a positive consequence (keeping the airport safe) and, overall, is just more polite and conversational. By being more personal, the TSA humanizes itself and its messages, something brands also strive to do.   

Locate all emergency exits

-> Take a look around you. Do you know where your nearest emergency exit is?

People hear this phrase when they board planes and even in non-airport situations such as movie theaters. The call to action “take a look around you” is observational, which Persado research has shown is the top performing CTA. It’s also more of an instruction than a reminder. Being actionable and specific is important when trying to convince someone to do something, whether it’s finding an emergency exit or click on a Facebook ad. “Do you know” inspires Curiosity (to nudge, tease or stimulate interest in a vague way). It’s not a rhetorical question but one that you should find the answer to quickly upon hearing the message.  

Here are four more messages re-crafted for higher impact.

  1. Have your ID and boarding pass out for inspection.
    We all have places to be! Keep things moving by having your ID and boarding pass ready.
  2. Ensure pockets are empty and remove bulky jewelry.
    A friendly reminder: you must empty your pockets and remove bulky jewelry as part of the security screening process.
  3. Remove your shoes and place them directly on the X-ray belt.
    We screen shoes for your safety. Please remove them and place them directly on the x-ray belt.
  4. Remember to check the bins and collect all belongings after going through screening.
    Please take a moment and be sure you’ve collected all your belongings and are not leaving anything behind. Thanks for your patience with the security screening process.


Word choice can determine whether someone turns up or tunes out of your pitch. People are more apt to pay attention if the message is friendly, helpful and human, even if it means saying to someone on a conference call, “Hold on a sec. I’m about to hop on a flight, and this announcement is important.” And, arguably even more beneficial for you, that family of five will double check to ensure they don’t have a water bottle in their backpack, making it easier for you to get through the checkpoint.

Similarly, people are bombarded with marketing messages each day. According to the McKinsey analysis, the average worker receives 120 emails per day. More than 6 million businesses advertise on Facebook, per the social network. To rise above the noise — the work emails, other brands — your words need to stand out. AI allows marketers to do this.

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