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Commercial pacification: Airline advertising, fear of flight, and the shaping of popular emotion

Journal of Consumer Culture

Published online on


Though advertising’s capacity to provoke fear and uncertainty has been the subject of much historical scholarship, we know little about how advertisers have tried to allay the fears surrounding products widely perceived to be risky in nature. This article explores such dynamics by describing how the US advertising industry operated as an emotional community to frame the fear of flight as a marketing problem to be resolved through carefully designed ad campaigns. Drawing on a broad array of primary sources, the article focuses on the period between the 1920s and the 1970s. During this era, infrastructure expansion and new aviation technologies continuously grew the airlines’ carrying capacity, creating an ongoing need to recruit new flyers at a time when many consumers harbored deep concerns about the safety of air travel. The essay concentrates on two particularly influential lines of thought that structured airline marketing efforts: first, that flying fears were feminine in nature; and second, that flight phobias were symptomatic of an underdeveloped psyche. Though the focus is on airline advertising, the study ultimately has broader implications for our understanding of commercial media’s role in the selling of risk and the shaping of emotion in consumer capitalism.