WANTS VERSUS NEEDS: Lead Us Very Often Into Temptation
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WANTS VERSUS NEEDS: Lead Us Very Often Into Temptation
Amid the deafening ring of cash registers

WANTS VERSUS NEEDS: Lead Us Very Often Into Temptation
Amid the deafening ring of cash registers, Americans can scarcely deny they’re acquisitive. But that won’t stop them from shifting some responsibility for the sin. And what better target than advertising? Thus, new polling data from Roper Starch show 69 percent of respondents agreeing that “advertising encourages people to use products they don’t need.” As of course it does, and proud of it. Would people want things they don’t need if advertising weren’t around to egg them on? So one suspects. Adam and Eve didn’t need that apple, but they were easily persuaded to want it–even in the absence of television commercials by the Eden Apple Growers Association. It’s nice to have a whipping boy handy, though, and consumers must be secretly grateful to advertising for playing that role. In fact, Roper’s polling found consumers more tolerant than usual of advertising. For instance, 79 percent of respondents agreed that “advertising provides useful information about products and services” and 70 percent agreed that it’s “often fun or interesting.” Likewise, the number who accused advertising of increasing the prices consumers must pay (61 percent) was at a 24-year low. Like wayward presidents, advertising presumably stands higher in public esteem when the economy is booming. If nothing else, we’re less apt to resent a cheesy sales pitch when we can afford the unneeded things it’s selling.

SHAPE UP, BUD: Room for Improvement
Do wives really expect husbands to be stylish? What a revoltin’ development that is. We learn of this from a survey of women by McCall’s. Respondents clearly warmed to the chance to specify ways in which a husband might be improved. One part of the survey found 32 percent of women wishing he were “More attentive to you,” 29 percent wishing he were “Wealthier and more successful in his career” and 28 percent wishing he were “More conscious of his health.” Just 5 percent wished he were “More intelligent.” It wasn’t clear whether this was because wives believe their husbands are already intelligent or because they’re content with stupid husbands. On the bottom-line question of whether they’d marry the lug all over again, 84 percent said they would.

The Scenic Client, Previous Lifestyles, Unbullying Pulpits, Etc.
Its telegenic landscape plays a big role in commercials for cars, clothes, you name it. So why shouldn’t Arizona leverage all that TV exposure on its own behalf? That’s what a spot for the state’s tourism office does as it displays Arizona scenery. On-screen supers deliver the message: “This is not a truck commercial or a beer commercial or a commercial for jeans. This is a commercial for the one thing that makes those commercials look so good. Arizona.” Moses Anshell of Phoenix created the spot–and in the process gave a nice audition for a truck, beer or jeans account.

In school, we all learn that the First Amendment restrains the government from limiting freedom of expression. Now, a report chartered by the Federal Communications Commission and summarized on the FCC Web site gives a different perspective. It looks at “no urban/Spanish dictates” in the radio marketplace–i.e., “the practice of not advertising on stations that target programming to ethnic/racial minorities.” It also reports on “minority discounts,” in which such stations are paid less for commercial time than other stations of similar size. Criticizing these practices by advertisers, the study says they may “undermine marketplace competition and First Amendment principles favoring diversity of viewpoint.” Elsewhere, it says advertisers that do these things “detract from the First Amendment goal of diversity of viewpoint.” The report urges federal action to stop these practices. Whatever the unwisdom of advertisers’ actions, one is taken aback by the idea that the First Amendment obliges them to behave in a certain way. “Diversity of viewpoint” is a desirable consequence of First Amendment freedoms. But if everyone felt like voicing the same ideas about everything, it’s hard to see how the First Amendment would favor or disfavor that outcome–or how it would empower the feds to step into the matter.

The trouble with lifestyle advertising is that it limits its pitch to one’s current life. Why not tap into our past lives as well? (Think of it as previous-lifestyle advertising.) That’s the technique Seattle-based WongDoody uses in an ad for old-fashioned baseball apparel at Ebbets Field Flannels. Granted, few potential customers can really have played for the Kansas City Monarchs. But who’s to stop us from imagining such a glorious past?

If I were God, I’d have mixed feelings about the ad campaigns one sees for churches. Promising “The word of God in words you understand,” this one for a Chicago church (via Corn Fed Advertising of that city) is a clever example of the current genre. One can’t quibble with churches for indulging in that great ’90s activity: outreach. But one also wonders whether they expect new attendees to meet them halfway. Purists will complain that ad campaigns attempt to sell religion as if it were soap, but that’s off the mark. After all, soap ads are usually insistent on the point that people ought to bathe. Intent as they are on welcoming the spiritually unwashed, today’s church ads often seem reluctant to suggest that religion places serious demands on people. They may stimulate trial, but are they laying the groundwork for brand loyalty? Time will tell.

PRIME RATES: Putting Some Numbers to Black-and-White TV
Any media maven will tell you that black Americans watch more television than white Americans. But a new study by True North Communications’ TN Media unit notes that the disparity is least evident in prime-time viewing. Based on data for fourth quarter 1998, the study found blacks watching 40 percent more television than nonblacks overall, but just 9 percent more in prime time. It also found wide variation by program type, with the average black viewer watching 42 percent more sci-fi/adventure programming than the average white viewer, 37 percent more reality-based fare and 26 percent more sitcoms.

SEXUAL NORMS: Let Us Now Praise Adequate Men
Subjected to endless amounts of advice on enhancing their sexual prowess, have American men become supremely proficient in bed? Not by their own account. In a reader poll conducted by Men’s Fitness magazine, 52 percent of respondents rated their sexual technique as merely “adequate,” and another 15 percent judged themselves “below average.” Or, as the magazine’s summary of the data puts it, “most men don’t think they’re Casanovas in the bedroom.” Lest you imagine the men are too busy satisfying their partners’ emotional needs to focus on the physical details, 45 percent of the respondents termed themselves just adequate in that regard, while 17 percent rated themselves below average. It’s nice to see that so many men have the grace not to boast about their abilities. And in a consumer culture that brandishes the best of everything as indispensable, simple adequacy has the charm of novelty. On how many lovers have men inflicted all this adequacy? A plurality (30 percent) said they’ve had two to five partners in their lifetimes, while 18 percent claimed six to ten.

TODAY’S FRESHMAN: Not Drunk on Ideas Or (Usually) on Beer
Let us stipulate that college freshmen have no shortage of bad habits. But guzzling beer is less and less likely to be one of them, says a nationwide study by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA. In all, 52 percent of the freshmen surveyed said they drink beer “frequently or occasionally,” the lowest figure in the annual study’s 33-year history. (The historic high was 75 percent, in 1981.) Thus, we probably can’t blame hangovers for the fact that a record-high percentage of freshmen (60 percent) confess they come late to class. Rather, the tardiness seems to reflect a growing “disengagement from academics” among students. The number saying they often felt bored in class during their last year in high school (38 percent) was a record high. And the 62 percent who said they attend college “to gain a general education and appreciation of ideas” were easily outnumbered by the 77 percent who attend “to be able to get a better job” and the 75 percent who are in it “to be able to make more money.” Among other tidbits from the study: 83 percent of the freshmen say they use the Internet for research or homework, 66 percent communicate by e-mail and 54 percent participate in chat rooms.

BREAKFAST TIME, KIDS: Come and Get It Before I Throw It in the Creek
If kids had breakfast every morning, it would be a nourishing development for cereal companies. As it is, a survey of 9-12-year-olds finds 38 percent saying they miss breakfast at least once a week, including 32 percent who miss it twice a week. It’s not as though kids are indifferent to the morning meal. Commissioned by Post Cereal Co., the survey finds 90 percent of respondents saying breakfast helps them do better in school and 88 percent saying it gives them more energy. Asked to pick their favorite breakfast food, 42 percent chose cereal, 20 percent cited eggs/eggs with meat and 16 percent opted for pancakes/waffles.