Rick Popp on Airline Advertising, Fear of Flight, and Shaping of Popular Emotion

When the airlines were growing into a major industry in the mid-twentieth century, how did they deal with the fact that many Americans were afraid to fly? Rick Popp’s new article in the Journal of Consumer Culture examines this question, studying how advertising campaigns subtly – and sometimes, not so subtly – tried to allay those anxieties. Popp’s study concentrates on a pair of ideas that influenced how advertisers’ thought about the fear of flight: first, that it was feminine in nature, and second, that it was symptomatic of an underdeveloped psyche. These ideas very much shaped the ad campaigns they developed as the airlines tried to woo wary vacationers and business travelers. Though the study focuses on air travel, it ultimately has broader implications for our understanding of how risk has been mass marketed and how theories of emotion shape advertising messages.