Mixed Blessings

Call it the Former-Millionaires Club. Research by NFO WorldGroup finds the number of households with net worth of $1 million or more fell by 11 percent between June 2001 and June 2002. That brought the number of such households down to a still-remarkable 3.3 million. If you feel the affluent-but-not-filthy-rich will inherit the earth, you’ll be gratified to learn there was just a 1 percent decline in the number of households worth between $500,000 and $1 million.

This can’t be a good reflection on the nation’s restaurants. A Knowledge Networks/SRI study found restaurant listings are the Yellow Pages section consumers use most often. But the physicians/surgeons section was a close runner-up. Various automotive headings accounted for three of the top 10 categories. Also among the faves: beauty salons, lawyers and dentists.

Our affection for the musical favorites of our youth may fade over time. By contrast, our antipathy toward the musical favorites of younger people’s youth is refreshed every day. A campaign for a Milwaukee-area oldies station exploits this fact, showing the lengths to which grown-ups will go to avoid today’s teen-oriented music (or “music”). The ad was created by Advertising, Boelter & Lincoln of Milwaukee.

With corporate CEOs now derided as one of the lower life forms, are companies’ reputations hostage to executives’ behavior? Happily for shareholders (if not for the CEOs), it turns out that consumers pay little heed to top executives when forming their opinion of a corporation. In a survey by the Public Relations Society of America and Equation Research, just 2 percent of those polled said the CEO and other senior executives had the “greatest influence on their overall evaluation of a corporation’s reputation.” The quality of the company’s products and services was the factor most often cited (by 29 percent of respondents), followed by its financial status (19 percent) and its accessibility/responsiveness to the general public (18 percent).

No wonder schools adopt dress codes. As the back-to-school shopping season got into full swing, NPDFashionworld forecast that low-rise jeans would be the hottest apparel item for girls and baggy jeans the indispensible item for boys. Meanwhile, an online poll by Katrillion.com found designer jeans, athletic shoes and leather accessories atop teens’ must-have lists.

Although health experts link obesity to various cancers, consumers remain oblivious to the connection. In a survey conducted for the American Institute for Cancer Research, just 6 percent of adults cited overweight and obesity when asked to name major risk factors for cancer. While 89 percent said overweight/obesity increases one’s risk of heart disease and 86 percent rightly linked it to diabetes, just 25 percent said it raises one’s chances of getting cancer.

They’re old enough to have money to spend on music, yet young enough to know which bands are cool. That helps explain the results of a poll conducted by The Integer Group among recent college graduates. Respondents were given five choices—music, sports they enjoy, clothes, TV shows and the beer they drink—and asked to say which of these most reflects their “personal image.” Music won a plurality (36 percent), easily outdistancing sports (18 percent), clothes (12 percent) and TV shows (10 percent). Respondents gave the smallest block of votes to the beer they drink (9 percent), a notably poor showing since the polling was conducted in bars.

Honors this week for Best Use of a Dress That Looks Like a Frozen Dessert go to an ad for Prescriptives Super Line Preventor. In a category that takes itself far too seriously, the dress introduces a welcome note of playfulness. It also matches up well with the alliterative motto (delivered in tiny type under the photo), “intuitive intelligent individual.” The ad was created in-house.

One nice thing about the implosion of new-economy companies: It can make the stodgy old-economy companies look good by comparison. We see something of this in a J.D. Power and Associates study oncustomer satisfaction with large electric utilities. It found customers thinking more highly of their electric companies despite the industry’s problems of the recent past. The “company image” aspect of consumer satisfaction improved “as customers rate the industry higher on attributes such as ‘being honest and ethical.’ ”

Elsewhere on the silver-lining front, a bulletin from the University of Michigan says the stock market’s decline could make people better at saving—assuming, of course, that they continue to have an income. Describing the views of Richard Curtin, director of the university’s Surveys of Consumers, it notes that while the crash of 1987 “had a minor and short-lived impact on consumer confidence, it sparked an increase in the personal savings rate of 1.4 percentage points over the following 18 months.” As the “wealth effect” becomes a mere memory, the semi-crash of this past summer could yield a similar effect.