LET’S BLAME THE ‘VICTIMS’: Spotlighting the Low Tastes of Our Fellow Man
“A study by the Surgeon General has determined that idiocy released into the atmosphere by ‘trash TV’ kills brain cells even among people who don’t watch such shows.” Naturally, there is no such study. But it would take something on that order–a television equivalent of passive smoking–to energize the debate about TV’s gamier talk shows. As things stand, it’s hard to sustain much concern for the brain cells (or, for that matter, the souls) of the people who choose to watch the likes of Jerry Springer and his repertory company of exhibitionists. Indeed, one begins to suspect that people are a bad influence on TV rather than the other way around. Television’s role is merely to assemble the private bad taste of millions of individuals so it achieves critical mass in the public square. The people who might once have gone to local bearbaitings now cohere into a national audience, so alarms go off. Keep in mind that what really appalls talk TV’s detractors is not so much the shows themselves as their success. If Howard Stern’s new TV show turns out to be a ratings dud, editorialists will hail its failure as a sign that the American public hasn’t defined deviancy down as far as had been feared. And no one will fret about how tawdry the show itself is.

Whatever their failings, people are tireless in professing devotion to the institution of the family. That doesn’t mean they are equally tireless in practicing such devotion, of course. But in this day and age, we’ll gladly settle for the sort of hypocrisy that pays grudging tribute to virtue. Thus, it is gratifying to see from a Roper Starch Worldwide survey that Americans rate family as the value transcending all others. And they’re not alone: Respondents in 22 of the 35 countries covered by the study put family atop the hierarchy. Among other tidbits from the survey: Honesty is the chief value in the Netherlands (cited by 58 percent of respondents), Brazil has the highest percentage citing “fun” (38 percent), and Koreans are the most likely to cite health and fitness (53 percent).

Opinions differ about the longterm effect of cyberspace on print advertising. At this point, though, print is driving awareness of the electronic means of contacting companies. The chart sums up an analysis by Penton Research Services of ads running in 12 Penton business magazines. Are readers using the email addresses to reach advertisers? Another study, by Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research, casts some indirect light on the question. The
companies Forrester surveyed are receiving an average of 500 emails a day from the outside world, and the firm expects the number to quadruple in the next two years. That’s good news and bad news, since the study also says companies are often unprepared to handle the surge of electronic missives.

CHEATING, CONTINUED: Who, the Shortstop? Oh, He’s Our New Copywriter
In springtime, an ad agency’s thoughts turn to softball and a season of league competition against other agencies’ squads. And, human nature being the cesspit it is, agencies may at times be tempted to augment their team rosters with some freelance assistance–for instance, a ringer who’s played semi-pro ball. Agencies do much the same thing when pitching new business, after all, so why not when pitching softballs? Well, agencies should be advised that people in the country at large would look askance at such a practice. In its voluminous study on cheating, Condƒ Nast Sports for Women asked respondents to gauge how sinful it is to use a ringer to win a corporate softball tournament–rating the action on a scale from 1 (“the cheating is harmless”) to 5 (“the cheating is seriously unacceptable”). In all, 37 percent of respondents ranked such cheating at a serious 5, versus a mere 6 percent giving it a harmless 1. Elsewhere on the cheating front, the survey gives insight into why so many diets go the way of all flesh. Lest men preen over their slight edge in dietary honesty, another portion of the study suggests they save their dark impulses for sports–with men more than twice as likely as women to have cheated on the playing fields. If you wonder why cheaters often prosper in business, still another part of the study hints at an answer: People resent them less than the resident liars and backstabbers.

MIXED BLESSINGS: Talking About Sex, The Peppermint Twist, Diamonds Galore, Etc.
No wonder adults are so well-informed about sex. An online poll among parents of preschool kids finds 19 percent saying they often discuss sex with their offspring, while another 21 percent say they sometimes do so. The research was conducted via the Web site of Sesame Street Parents magazine.
Given a choice in the matter, the corporate types at Volkswagen wouldn’t choose to spotlight the diminutive dimensions of the new Beetle’s backseat. However, matters have been taken out of their hands. The original Beetle became a brand whose image escaped the control of its corporate owner, so we shouldn’t be surprised if that happens with the new Beetle, too. And, when you think about it, a small backseat might hold some prophylactic appeal for parents. For better or worse, Minneapolis residents will get their first impression of the new Beetle from an ad publicizing a raffle benefiting H.E.A.R.T., an organization whose name stands for “help enable alcoholics/addicts receive treatment.” Outpatient, a unit of Minneapolis agency Kruskopf Olson, created the piece.
Honors for Best Credit-Card Slogan of the Week go to the Society of Creative Loafers MasterCard and an Atlanta ad agency called Match. While people in the conventional Gold Card crowd might relish their entrƒe to exclusive clubs, creative loafers take no less pride in being unwelcome at such white-bread venues. The photo aptly captures that sensibility, wouldn’t you say? The credit card is an offshoot of Atlanta-based Creative Loafing, an alternative weekly that includes entertainment listings for places where the fellow in the photo would blend right into the crowd.
Given the box-office buoyancy of Titanic, you’d expect the leading category of in-theater advertising to be flotation devices. Instead, sit-down restaurants top the list compiled by National Cinema Network of Kansas City, Mo., which sells in-theater advertising for theaters around the country. Automotive sales and services rank second, perhaps capitalizing on the interest generated by all those cinematic car chases and the crashes in which they usually end. Rounding out the top five are medical/healthcare providers, retail services and (for the postliterate generation) schools and universities.
Speaking of car crashes and healthcare, it’s an unexpected bonus when a health-insurance ad provides useful information instead of useless commiseration. So, readers will take note of Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield’s tip that peppermint can help to keep a driver from zoning out at the wheel. HMS Partners of Columbus, Ohio, is the agency. And, as far as we could determine at press time, the shop is not beholden to a massive client in the peppermint industry.
Among the varied facets of fast-food advertising, one doesn’t expect to find a fixation with diamonds. So imagine our surprise when the same week’s mail brought two fast-food campaigns that parody the “Silhouettes” series for DeBeers diamonds. A Burger King spot (via Ammirati Puris Lintas, New York) goes the whole nine yards, with a silhouetted couple dancing around their mansion until the gentleman presents a ribbon-topped package to the lady. She unties it and finds, to her delight, the new Chicken Crisp sandwich. It’s part of Burger King’s menu of 99-cent items, explains the posh voiceover, “and you’re worth every penny.” Meanwhile, a spot for Checkers Drive-In Restaurants (via Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami) shows a sirloin burger being constructed in a DeBeersesque silhouette. At the end, the voiceover dubs it “the sandwich that says ‘I’d have lunch with you all over again.’ ” Will either spot sell the client’s fast food? Hard to say. But don’t be surprised to see a sudden upswing in diamond sales.
It all began in the ’80s, when someone declared that business moguls were the rock stars of the decade. The practice persists, albeit in updated form. So, who are the rock stars of the ’90s? In his editor’s note in the current Details, Michael Caruso offers a nomination of sorts: “Sports is, after all, the rock ‘n’ roll of the 1990s.” It’s a plausible notion. But considering the tons of money spent on pop music, even amid a relatively slack period for the business, one wonders why rock ‘n’ roll itself isn’t considered the rock ‘n’ roll of the ’90s.