QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Are You an Optimist, a Pessimist or Neither?
Do a survey on the state of the country, and respondents will say it’s going to hell in a handbasket. Do a survey asking people about their own prospects, and they’ll see prosperity coming their way. In a country where the pursuit of happiness is enshrined as a fundamental right, people expect that pursuit to pay off. But while optimism remains a national characteristic, it’s tailed off since last year. Asked to classify themselves as optimists or pessimists (or neither), 50 percent of this year’s respondents called themselves optimists, while 13 percent said they’re pessimists. By comparison, 62.5 percent of last year’s respondents called themselves optimists and 7.5 percent said they’re pessimists. Actually, the ’97 findings are in line with our pre-’96 surveys, when the percentage of optimists hovered around the 50 percent mark. Women (46 percent) were less upbeat than men (54 percent) this time. Responses varied more sharply by age, with 39 percent of the 25-34-year-olds calling themselves optimists, while 58 percent of the 35-44s did so. The 18-24s (50 percent optimistic) and 45-55s (54 percent) fell in the middle of the range.

GIMME: A Kid’s Wish List
Who says today’s youngsters have no ambition? As we learn from research by The Zandl Group of New York, 8-12-year-olds are highly ambitious when it comes to getting presents. Given a chance to pick from a fantasy list of holiday gifts, 97 percent wanted a swimming pool, 96 percent coveted a big-screen TV and 95 percent wanted a chauffeured limousine of their own. Other items rating high: a hot tub (91 percent), a trip to Disney World (90 percent), a mini-refrigerator for the kid’s own room (87 percent), a computer (84 percent), a waterbed (83 percent) and a Web site (78 percent). Less in demand were a pet snake (47 percent) and golf lessons from Tiger Woods (28 percent).

THE NEW BREAD: No Longer the Land Of Tea and Crumpets
They may have their doubts about giving up the pound sterling, but Britons show no such nationalism where bread is concerned. Research by Datamonitor finds sales of croissants in the U.K rising at a compound annual growth rate of 17 percent between 1992 and 1996, while bagel sales were rising at an even brisker 32 percent. Sales of scones, on the other hand, were flat, while the market for buns and tea cakes grew just 2 percent a year. The research also finds German breads becoming popular as a healthier alternative to traditional British fare.

THE X IN ANXIETY: We Have Nothing to Fear But the Future Itself
Operating on the time-honored theory that one man’s distress is another man’s marketing opportunity, a Yankelovich Monitor Minute reports on high levels of apprehension among Gen Xers and promptly declares: “Opportunities abound for stress-relieving tools.” Yankelovich polling finds Gen Xers more apt than their elders to include “the future” among the things they fear most. Of course, the average 25-year-old has more future than the average 55-year-old, so there’s more for him to worry about in simple quantitative terms. For whatever reason, 36 percent of Gen Xers said they’re fearful of the future, versus 29 percent of baby boomers and 25 percent of what Yankelovich refers to as “matures.” But the Xers aren’t wallowing in angst: 52 percent agreed that they’ll “look for ways to organize” themselves during this year, compared to 48 percent of the boomers and 31 percent of the matures.

SYNCING FAST: Getting Latin America Onto U.S. Time
American movies and TV shows have long been staples of the entertainment market in Latin America. But, like the Eisenhower-era cars that still trundle through Cuba, they weren’t exactly first-run by the time they migrated south. A report on the new consumer culture in Latin America, produced by Bates USA South in Miami, notes that the old time lag has been cut-a step that has “moved the region into First World real time.” That, in turn, has helped alter the perception consumers there have of their place in the world. The sense of being in “global sync” contributes to both the pleasure and the angst people feel in facing wider choices as consumers. And, warns the report, it makes them less receptive to such clichƒs of regional advertising as soccer balls, maracas and salsa.

TRADING UP: Noting Alterations in the Market for Men’s Suits
If men don’t look nattier than they did last year, it’s not for lack of trying. A story last week in DNR, which tracks the menswear business, reported on efforts by manufacturers of men’s suits to move into the booming $500-to-$700 category. It also cited a similar burst of activity in the $1,000-plus market. As the economy perks along, men feel money burning a hole in their pockets. So why not buy pricier pockets? The chart, summarizing data from the NPD Group, quantified the trends in the story. Such news is of interest to marketers in other fields, too. After all, the lad who just traded up to a $500 suit is apt to feel he should be driving a fancier car, eating at fancier restaurants and drinking fancier liquor.