Mark Dolliver’s Takes

Auto Motives: All Right, So Americans Are Nuts About Their Cars
Even resolute defenders of advertising have to admit that automotive ads are often over the top. Must the rational process of choosing a car be embellished with so much emotional folderol? Well, maybe it must. One is inclined to view the issue more indulgently, anyhow, after seeing the results of a survey conducted for Goodyear by Bruskin Goldring Research. The polling offers quantitative support for the notion that Americans have highly emotional relationships with their cars–nearly as irrational as their relationships with each other. Take, for instance, the fact that 55 percent of men and 45 percent of women talk to their cars. Likewise, 32 percent of men and 16 percent of women swear at their vehicles. When choosing a service center, 49 percent of men and 41 percent of women are “as particular as they are when choosing a day-care center for their child.” (Yikes!) Twenty-two percent of the survey’s respondents have entreated a car to keep going when they feared it was running out of gas. Fourteen percent have given their car a nickname (Betsy/Old Betsy is the most popular sobriquet, followed by Big Red, Old Blue and Nellie). A polite 26 percent verbally thank the car “for a job well done,” and the same percentage give it a pat on the dashboard. Would people be as emotive toward their cars if advertising didn’t cue them to do so? The survey doesn’t address that question. But it’s revealing that the ties between people and cars appear to deepen with time. Among owners of an auto that’s 3 or more years old, 38 percent say “they pamper their car more than they do themselves,” and 39 percent “admit giving their cars more checkups than themselves.” It’s not just that they want to keep Old Betsy running. Rather, 25 percent “actually think of their car as a member of the family.” Not necessarily as an in-law, though. Given a choice between kissing their mother/father-in-law or kissing their car, 38 percent would plant one on the car.
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Resistance: Turn It Off and Go to Bed
It’s one thing if television turns America’s children into violent felons. But if it keeps them awake past their bedtimes? Now that’s serious! A study led by a pediatrics professor at Brown University found that kids who watch a lot of television are more prone to “bedtime resistance, sleep onset delay and anxiety around sleep.” Reporting on their findings in the medical journal Pediatrics, the researchers urged healthcare practitioners to “be aware of the potential negative impact of television viewing at bedtime.” After shrugging off other studies that link kids’ TV habits to depression, violent behavior and obesity, parents across the land may finally feel motivated to turn off the set. It won’t be easy, though. Three-quarters of parents in the study said TV “was part of their child’s usual bedtime routine.” And 20 percent said they “frequently disagreed” with their kids about bedtime viewing.
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And To Our South: The Peril to Our North
Why look across the globe for foreign foes when you can find them close to home? A Harris Poll asked Americans to classify 15 countries vis-ˆ-vis the U.S. Although 69 percent called Canada a “close ally” and 21 percent termed it “friendly,” 4 percent classed it as “not friendly” and 1 percent as an “enemy.” Great Britain was runner-up in the number of respondents calling it a pal, but 6 percent termed it unfriendly and 2 percent viewed it as an enemy. Despite all those Paul Hogan commercials, 9 percent put Australia in the hostile categories. Back in this hemisphere, Mexico was seen as a close ally or friend by 66 percent, but that left 19 percent saying it’s not friendly and 5 percent seeing it as an enemy.
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The Great Divide: Hoping You Find This Item Full of Fun and Very Smart
Every once in a while, a poll reveals one of the great divides in mankind. Let’s give a jolly cheer or a savvy nod of approval–take your pick–to a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll for doing so. In which class would you place yourself–with those who’d prefer to be thought of as smart or those who’d prefer to be thought of as fun? It’s not an easy choice, which helps explain why the results are so evenly divided. (How would Einstein have chosen? Or each of the Marx Brothers?) Women who view men as weak-brained bundles of appetites can mull the greater male propensity for wishing to be seen as smart. Men who regard women as killjoys should note the fun-loving skew of the female respondents. In light of the political breakdown of the data, political candidates may woo independent voters by promising an increase in national hilarity.
If men are a bit more apt than women to hope they come across as smart, perhaps it’s because they worry more about getting fired. When the survey asked respondents to choose the thing they “spend the most time thinking about,” 17 percent of men cited “keeping your job,” as did 10 percent of women. A plurality of men (42 percent) and a majority of women (51 percent) said they think most about “keeping your family together,” while nearly equal numbers of men (33 percent) and women (35 percent) chose “keeping your health.” Reflecting this concern for family life, 65 percent of all respondents would choose “an extra day with your family” in preference to “an extra day of pay” (11 percent) or “an extra day to just sleep and rest” (21 percent). They would also prefer “an extra week of vacation” (50 percent) to “an extra week of pay” (40 percent).
People also were asked which pro sport they like best. Football (45 percent) easily beat baseball (24 percent) and basketball (16 percent).
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They Buy: Catch That Senior Wave
Online marketers could be missing a bet if they ignore the Internet’s elderly habituƒs. True, old folks are less likely than young ones to go online. A recent CBS News poll found 13 percent of Americans age 65-plus saying they have Internet access, versus 66 percent of 18-30-year-olds. But a study by research firm Greenfield Online says oldsters who do go online are more apt than younger onliners to buy an item via the Internet. Seventy-eight percent of “surfing seniors” have bought online, according to Greenfield, with software, books and music CDs the leading categories.
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Myths and Realities: Quantifying Enthusiasm For the Online Life
Which will be more essential to business success five years from now: “years of work experience” or “skill at using the Internet?” Among respondents to a Fast Company/Roper Starch Worldwide survey, work experience beat Internet skill by a landslide, 64 percent to 36 percent. Similarly, a matchup of “social skills” versus Internet skill found the former trouncing the latter, 72 percent to 28 percent. (The respondent pool was selected from among “employed, college-educated visitors to AOL’s Opinion Place.”) These numbers reflect the broader finding that a majority of those who go online are ambivalent about its importance for business. “A scant 56 percent of respondents cite access to the Web as being at least ‘somewhat important’ to their work,” according to the magazine’s analysis of the data.
People are more taken with the Internet as an adjunct to their lives away from the office. The survey finds “most of the time” respondents spend on the Web is for “personal pursuits,” with just 33 percent of their online time devoted to work activities. As you can gather from the chart, the Internet has more appeal than TV as a source of home entertainment. And the percentage of respondents who would pick an hour of Web shopping over an hour of shopping at the mall “represents an extraordinary endorsement of the Web,” the magazine notes, when you consider how new online retailing is.
Among other info-tidbits: 48 percent classified as “reality” rather than “myth” the statement, “The Internet is replacing face-to-face interaction.” Fourteen percent said they spend “some” or “a lot” of time viewing pornography over the Web. And 24 percent declared they will “never” use the Internet to buy clothing.
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Allergic Data: Just What the Ad Ordered
Sometimes, consumers do as they’re told. As ads urge them to “ask your doctor” about prescription remedies for allergies, they’ve been asking like there’s no tomorrow. Polling by The NPD Group of Port Washington, N.Y., finds prescription remedies accounting for 53 percent of allergy-drug purchases, versus 47 percent a year ago. In 47 percent of allergic households, sufferers are using prescription drugs exclusively. NPD credits the trend to direct-to-consumer ads, as “two out of three sufferers feel that advertising has done a good job of education them” about prescription drugs they might use.
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Well Above: Beauty Is in the Eye Of the Self-Beholder
It’s not exactly the Lake Woebegone effect, in which everyone in a class of people is deemed “well above average.” But the issue of personal appearance elicits a corollary to that phenomenon, with just 2 percent of respondents to a Gallup poll describing themselves as “somewhat below average in attractiveness” and fewer than 1 percent saying they’re downright “unattractive.” Meanwhile, 34 percent think they’re “attractive or above average” and 8 percent term themselves “beautiful or handsome.”
No survey of this sort would be complete without a gender gap. Gallup finds 13 percent of men putting themselves in the beautiful/handsome class while 3 percent of women do so. That may explain why men are less likely than women to wish they looked better (17 percent versus
29 percent). For both sexes, though, people’s degree of discontent with their looks is strikingly low when you consider the millions they spend on beauty products. The numbers
indicate there’s not a big constituency for a revolt against “lookism,” since so few people regard themselves as likely victims of it. Anyway, one can take more direct action: 19 percent of the respondents say they would “consider” elective surgery to spruce themselves up.
With the bloom of youth still gracing their cheeks, 56 percent of respondents age 18-29 rated themselves above average in looks, versus just 31 percent of those age 50 and older. In its own analysis of this disparity, Gallup speculates that “older Americans may have bought into the idea that to be old is to be dowdy.” Others may have bought into the idea that to be Midwestern is to be dowdy: 33 percent of respondents from that part of the country said their looks are above average, versus a range of 43 percent to 46 percent in other regions.
Mixed Blessings: Getting to the Points, Maliathon Pale Ale, Etc.
Is vertical motion more fun than horizontal motion? Each has its partisans, but an online poll by CNN Interactive finds a preference for vertical–at least in toys. When people were asked to say which “former fad toy” is still their favorite, 52 percent of them chose the yo-yo and 40 percent picked Slinky, while just 8 percent opted for the Hula-Hoop.

This week’s episode of Great Moments in Pointillism comes in the form of a postcard ad for art.com, which sells prints and other artwork over the Internet. While ads often paint in broad strokes, this one cut through the cyber-impressionist clutter by making the most of discrete dots–as Seurat himself did. Leo Burnett of Chicago created the ad.

If scientists wish to initiate a study on the combined effects of fancy beer and pesticides, now’s the time. Two weekends ago, beer aficionados crowded onto a Brooklyn street for an annual beer festival. They’d been quaffing microbrews and high-end imports for several hours when a helicopter appeared overhead, with maliathon shooting out of pipes attached to its undercarriage. (New York City has been spraying to control an outbreak of mosquito-borne encephalitis). Early indications are that small doses of maliathon plus heavy doses of beer create euphoria. At least, the throng greeted its own spraying with a loud mock cheer.

High-tech clients must love incongruity. You can’t turn on your TV set without seeing a commercial that shows toddlers, elderly rustics and/or exotically clad Third Worlders chatting about computers. The joke soon wears thin. It gets a pleasing twist, though, in a campaign (via Gabriel Diericks Razidlo of Minneapolis) for an online retailer called redtag.com. Showing several nomads, one of whom evidently has bought a vacuum cleaner from the client, an ad enlivens the slogan: “Deals you can’t resist.” Another ad shows a set of golf clubs leaning against an igloo. In each case, the photo is charming as well as surprising. Now there’s a concept!