Mark Dolliver’s Takes

afterlifestyles: Judging Our Chances of Landing in Heaven or Hell
If you expect to go to heaven, you’ve got ample company. Polling by U.S. New & World Report finds 31 percent of Americans feel they have an “excellent” chance of passing through the pearly portals, while another 41 percent think their odds are “good.” Should all these people turn out to be correct, heaven will be a good deal less exclusive than the typical upper-middle-class suburb. Somehow, one expected better from the original gated community. Supposing it’s true (as Sartre wrote) that “Hell is other people,” there will be a hellish aspect to such a highly populated heaven. As for hell itself, just 2 percent of respondents said they have an excellent chance of landing there, and another 2 percent thought the odds were good. Taking the poll’s responses in sum, one gathers that grade inflation has overtaken the realm of moral self-assessment. The many Americans who deem themselves heaven-worthy can’t help but have a sense of grand entitlement as they make their way through their earthly lives. (Marketers take note!) What’s odd in this is that heaven must seem less attractive in our gilded age than it did for people in earlier times. Until recently, most souls in human history would look toward heaven as a sweet release from the toil needed to eke out bare subsistence. But for people wallowing in modern luxuries, will the prospect of heaven seem like a big improvement? On the other hand, hell must now seem more menacing than ever to its prospective residents. Moderns who’ve experienced little discomfort in their pampered lives can scarcely feel prepared to endure out-and-out torments.

plus, a stress gap: Freshmen Aren’t as Fresh As They Used to Be
They show no sign of being wiser, but they are older. In the latest of its annual surveys of college freshmen around the U.S., UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute detects an upward creep in the subjects’ ages. A striking 27.9 percent of this year’s freshmen began college at age 19; for male freshmen, the figure was 33.2 percent. It’s not that more students are taking a wanderjahr before starting college. Rather, the report suggests increasing numbers of them were left back somewhere along the line before reaching college. Whatever the cause, beer marketers will be pleased to note one implication of this trend: Students will be of legal drinking age for more of their college careers than if they’d arrived at age 18. Among other tidbits from the study: 38.8 percent of the women reported feeling “frequently overwhelmed,” versus 20 percent of the men. What explains this gap? The report notes that “women tend to spend more time than men studying, doing volunteer work, participating in student clubs or groups and tending to housework or child-care responsibilities. Men, on the other hand, spend more time than women exercising or playing sports, watching television, partying or playing video games.” There you have it.

confidentially: All Hail the Bold Leaders Of Our Private Sector!
In a 1980 Harris Poll, just 16 percent of Americans expressed great confidence in the people running major companies. The leaders of Wall Street had the confidence of 12 percent of those polled. A glance at the chart below will show how attitudes have shifted in the intervening years. Nothing like a decade of booming growth to brighten public opinion of the business sector. Still, the polling firm’s analysis of the data reminds us that a 1966 poll (the first in the series) found 55 percent of Americans expressing great confidence in the men (and they all were men) running the country’s major companies.
Of the institutions listed on the chart, only TV news and the press rated more poorly this year than in 1990. (Law firms weren’t covered by the 1990 poll.) The figure for the White House was unchanged. Rising most sharply in esteem since 1990 were the leaders of Wall Street, who held the great confidence of 9 percent of that poll’s respondents. Labor leaders gained just a single percentage point since 1990, although they’ve risen significantly from the low of 8 percent recorded in 1995.

how women rate: Presidential Timber?
If Americans aren’t ready to elect a woman as president, are they also wary of women as corporate leaders? A survey by Deloitte & Touche suggests not. Respondents said the foremost quality in a U.S. president is the ability to lead the nation in a crisis, and 51 percent thought a man would be better in that respect, versus 12 percent giving a woman the edge. Responses were similar concerning an ability to make difficult decisions (ranked second in importance), with a man seen as superior by 38 percent and a woman by 18 percent. When it comes to corporate leadership, though, responses were different. A woman CEO was seen as the equal of a male boss in the ability to make tough decisions and lead in a crisis, as well as in trustworthiness, honesty and brains–the five characteristics ranked as most important in that environment.

on the job: Oddly, ‘VIP Parking Space’ Didn’t Make the Cut

Looking at the chart below, one wonders whether men are a lackadaisical lot where their jobs are concerned. The polling data from research firm Taylor Nelson Sofres Intersearch indicates men view nearly every workplace issue with less intensity than their female counterparts do. The survey also finds male and female workers in agreement that money is not the most important factor in shaping attitudes toward one’s job. Might this help explain why upward pressure on labor costs have been surprisingly restrained during the current boom? Be that as it may, workers expressed comparatively little interest in climbing the corporate ladder: 40 percent of men and 44 percent of women said the “potential for advancement in the company” is extremely important to them. Elsewhere in the survey, respondents were fairly indifferent to “being able to work at home,” with 21 percent of men and 34 percent of women rating it “extremely important.” The sharpest gender gap in the survey responses: 38 percent of men and 52 percent of women cited “having a manageable level of stress and pressure.”

mixed blessings: A Livelier Final Year, Tips From the Farm, Etc.
If you’re threatening people with the prospect of a penurious old age, simple politeness requires that you leave them some dignity. Thus do we encounter a highly dignified panhandler in a TV spot touting variable annuities from AnnuityNet.com. Anyone whose retirement portfolio suffered in the market’s recent gyrations will feel a rapport with the well-dressed old gent as he resorts to the tin-cup technique of retirement finance. Others will identify with a fellow who does a twirling act with a golf club to busk for his greens fees. Richardson, Myers & Donofrio of Baltimore created the spot.
Were marketers a crass bunch, they might take fresh interest in the soon-to-be-dead. Gains in life expectancy have raised fears that people would simply be “living longer with worsening health,” notes the Journal of the American Medical Association. But a study by Loyola University’s medical school finds a happier story. Researchers started with a random sample of death certificates from 1986 and 1993, then interviewed next of kin. They found the more-recently deceased group had a better quality of life in their final year, particularly those who lasted past 85. Women in their last year of life had “significantly shorter or fewer
hospital stays” in 1993 than in 1986. The later cohort also fared better in their ability to walk, bathe, eat and the like. Men who died between ages 65 and 84 didn’t show a dramatic change in quality of life in their final year, but the figures were significantly positive for those who died at 85 or older.
In theory, the personal-computer market must have a saturation point. But we didn’t reach it in 1999, despite some computer-industry fears. A report from NPD Intellect says U.S. retail sales of consumer desktop PCs increased 37 percent in unit terms last year, while the dollar growth was 9 percent. Meanwhile, somewhere to the north, the rate of PC ownership was also increasing. A study by ACNielsen finds 61 percent of Canadian households had a computer by the end of ’99, while 30 percent owned at least two. Scanners and digital cameras topped the roster of accessories Canadian PC owners expect to buy in 2000.
There are some holdouts against the computer revolution. In a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll, an “enthusiastic” 31 percent of the respondents said that computers “improve the quality of our lives.” Fifty-eight percent said they “accept” computers but see their role as “both good and bad.” Then there were the 8 percent who flatly declared: “I reject computers, they are harming the quality of our lives.”
Thinking of giving your sweetheart a blender for Valentine’s Day? Or a fishing lure? An ad for a California florist counsels you to think twice, annotating flowers (“He loves me”) and nonfloral alternatives (“He loves me not”) with the message each would convey to a significant other. Horstmeyer/Stern of Santa Monica created the clever ad.
Those of you who already know how to tip a cow might not be hooked by an ad club’s call for entries that imparts such information. But one suspects such know-how is relatively rare among agency creative types. As such, the target audience will benefit from a piece created to promote the ADDY competition of the Ad Club of Central Pennsylvania. (Stoner Bunting of Lancaster was the agency.) Among the helpful hints: Pick a field with just a few cows in it, since that increases the odds that all the cows will be asleep (hence, defenseless). Also, choose a field free of bulls. “Bull attacks are the leading cause of injury among cow tippers.” If you wonder why there’s a head shot of a pipe-smoking David Ogilvy in the middle of all this, a caption explains: “Central PA is fertile ground for ideas. Remember, David Ogilvy once tilled the earth here.