‘DOG BITES MAN’: Why Stories And Statistics Tell Different Truths
On a recent Wednesday, teenagers were deeply disaffected from the adult world. By Thursday, teens were largely neo-traditionalists, with 94 percent believing in God, 51 percent getting along with their parents “very well” (another 46 percent do so “fairly well”) and 48 percent saying they even enjoy the same music as their folks. The difference, for readers of The New York Times, is that Wednesday Teens emerged from an anecdotal approach (in a special section of the paper), while Thursday Teens were a statistical phenomenon (from polling by the Times and CBS News). Coming on consecutive days, the contrasting accounts helped emphasize how different methods yield different results. The subjects of Wednesday’s narratives were interesting kids–an “Autonomous Generation” for whom life is “a situation they must negotiate in spite of adults who alternately harass and ignore them.” If Thursday’s data made Wednesday Teens seem less representative of their generation, we shouldn’t be surprised. By its nature, the typical doesn’t make great copy. “Dog Bites Man” is what usually happens, but we don’t want to read that story. Our desire for good information is always in competition with our desire for a good story and the kinds of insight it can convey. The media cater to both needs. It’s up to us to be aware of which is being served at any given moment.
INTERNET ABSENTEES: I’ll Sit This Trend Out, If You Don’t Mind
Whenever a phenomenon is said to have gripped the nation, it’s intriguing to see how many people remain ungripped. The Internet is a good case in point. While colleges are routinely (and, to a point, accurately) described as hotbeds of online activity, a survey of students finds that one-fourth of them never access the Internet. And lots of others do so only sporadically. The study was conducted by Memolink, a St. Louis-based marketing and research company that targets college students. Among students who access the Internet for at least one hour a day, the average time spent with it is 2.87 hours daily. Asked if they’d consider buying anything via the Internet, 59 percent of respondents answered “no.” On the other hand, a respectable 18 percent said they’ve already made at least one purchase through the Net.
ABOUT ABORTION: Choosing Not To Use The Unpopular Word
A leading organization on the pro-choice side of the abortion debate commissions a commercial to argue its case. So, what word is left unspoken in an otherwise loquacious spot? Abortion. We hear “choose” and “choice,” naturally. But a viewer unfamiliar with the coded meaning of those terms would neither hear nor see anything to tell him what’s really under discussion.
To look at this spot from The NARAL Foundation, one might suppose it’s about people (mostly women) who choose to swim or ride in cars or pray or wash the dishes. That’s the pattern of political debate on the issue, of course, with one side advocating choice (rather than abortion) and the other promoting life (rather than lock-’em-up laws). In the context of a commercial, though, the absence of the key word is conspicuous. After all, TV spots usually aren’t bashful about telling you what they’re selling; they aren’t given to subtlety. If a spot for laundry detergent made no plain reference to washing clothes, you would think it was weird.
Such circumspection ends up seeming odd here, too. The spot looks terrific, with disparate visuals assembled into a whole that is polished without seeming slick. (Focus/Elgin DDB of Seattle created the spot, with Johns+Gorman Films’ Ramaa Mosley as director.) Many of the clips are set in rural locales, and they work effectively to tell us that choice is as American as apple pie. The voiceover sounds commonsensical as it speaks of belief in oneself, acceptance of responsibility for one’s actions, the founding principles of the republic. Yet, the spot’s unwillingness to speak the A word finally leaves one wondering whether abortion is unspeakable. If a commercial defending access to abortion won’t say the word, does that mean there’s something shameful about the whole business? In that respect, the spot is curiously reminiscent of the old school of “feminine hygiene” advertising. Those spots were so mysterious about the product’s function that they seemed to suggest women’s bodies must be doing one ghastly thing after another.
No matter how skillful the execution, some issues resist treatment within the confines of a TV commercial. Abortion may be one of them. Given the conflicted state of public opinion, advocates wish to state their views in highly nuanced ways. But the genre is inhospitable to nuance. Much as critics complain about manipulative commercials, the form is candid (usually) about what it wants viewers to do. People may not have the highest opinion of commercials, but they are habituated to expect a certain bluntness. When that’s absent, they’re apt to be more puzzled than persuaded.
DATA DOWN THE DRAIN: Monday’s Often Messy, Tuesday’s Not Quite As Bad
How dull the calendar would be if marketers weren’t around to invent special holidays. One such occasion is nearly upon us, as the company behind Dixie cups has ordained May 18 as “Don’t Do Dishes Day.” In anticipation of DDDD, Dixie conducted research on the drudgery we endure when we don’t use disposable products. The respondents to Dixie’s survey spend an average of 7,000 minutes a year cleaning up after meals. So, it’s no surprise they sometimes shirk the task. Asked which day of the week they’re most likely to leave dishes unwashed, a plurality (19 percent) cited Monday, with Tuesday and Wednesday the runners-up (14 percent). Dish-soap marketers will wish to adjust their media schedules accordingly.
HOME ECONOMICS: Then There Are Those Who Favor ‘early Milk Crate’
What separates man from the wild beasts? Furniture. An ape may be able to conduct an online chat, but it would never occur to him to buy a credenza to house his computer. And how does the highly evolved human brain approach these matters? A survey by Hearst Magazines and the Home Furnishings Council sheds light on the topic. As you can see from the chart below, a majority of people’s biggest furniture purchases are unrelated to wear and tear on the stuff they’ve already got. Looking at purchase patterns by age group, the study found older couples less likely than other segments to have bought furniture lately. But among older couples who have been buying, their average expenditure ($2,821) is the highest for any age group. Asked which style of furniture they favor, a plurality of respondents opted for Contemporary (25 percent), with Country (16 percent) running second. For 57 percent of respondents, the living room is the beneficiary of their priciest furniture purchase in the past five years.
MIXED BLESSINGS: Advice in the Stalls, Surreal in Columbus, The Perils of Polling, Etc.
Bathroom humor, media placement and civic pride all come together in a new campaign for Time Out New York, a weekly guide to the city’s attractions. The posters are being placed in the bathroom stalls of several hundred bars and restaurants around the city. As New Yorkers well know, Flushing with a capital F is a euphoniously named neighborhood in Queens. Thus, the magazine signals its comprehensive grasp of the city, outer boroughs and all, in memorable fashion. The series was created by Alan Platt, creative director of agency Gigante Vaz in New York, with Zoom Media handling the arduous placement duties.
Readers of the newsweeklies will have noticed that both Time and Newsweek ran multipage packages last week to preview the summer’s big movies. Newsweek’s version took five pages, while Time confined its coverage to a mere four. Rumor has it that Entertainment Weekly will retaliate with a special issue on the expansion of NATO.
You may not think of Columbus, Ohio, as a hotbed of surrealism. Then again, you may. Either way, Lord, Sullivan & Yoder, based in that city, has taken a surrealist approach for some 15 years in promoting decorative surfaces by client Nevamar, a unit of International Paper. The latest execution in the series will doubtless horrify readers for whom not running with scissors is among the bedrock principles of life. But it will arrest the attention of the target audience: architects and interior designers.
SHOULD ANIMAL CLONING BE ALLOWED? Kids were invited to give their views in a poll on Curiocity’s FreeZone Web site.
Showing us the misunderstandings that can arise in polling, one kid wrote this response: “I think that animal coloning should be allowed but only if the colone is perfectly safe because a friend put colone on her dog and it got very sick. “