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Mark Dolliver's Takes

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growing old cheerfully: You Can Keep Your Fountain of Youth, Sonny
In our youth-obsessed society, popular wisdom says there's nothing worse than getting old. As is often the case, though, popular wisdom turns out not to be so popular when you see the empirical data. A nationwide poll by the Los Angeles Times finds Americans who have yet to reach 60 do not live in dread of crossing that threshold. And those who already have grown old appear not to find the experience too ghastly. Asked whether they "look forward to growing older," 59 percent of respondents said they do--including 56 percent of the 18-44-year-olds and 53 percent of the 45-54s. Just 13 percent of those polled said the thought of growing old "frightens" them. There was something of a gender gap here, with 11 percent of men and 15 percent of women confessing to such fear. While a majority of respondents (55 percent) said "the best years of a person's life" generally come before 50, 30 percent thought the post-50 years are best. Among those polled who are 65 are over, 43 percent said the best years precede 50 and 39 percent said they come after 50. Putting the matter in less dramatic terms, another question asked people under 60 whether they expect their lives to be better, worse or the same when they're old. Forty-six percent said "better," while only 12 percent said "worse." Among 18-44-year-olds, "better" trumped "worse" by a margin of 54 percent to 7 percent. As for respondents in the 60-69 age bracket, 47 percent of the men said life is better now than it was when they were younger, an opinion shared by 37 percent of the women. Thirteen percent of the 60-69 men and
14 percent of the women said life is now worse. Even among people age 70 and up, "better" outpointed "worse" by margins of 39 percent to 18 percent for the men and 32 percent to 21 percent for the women. We'll have more from this extensive survey in a future issue.

driving policy: Tears at the Gas Pump
Disappointing news for those of you who are annoyed by the gigantic SUVs that trundle down our roads: A mere 6 percent of people responding to a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll blame the rise in gasoline prices on "consumers who buy SUVs and other gas guzzlers." By contrast, 51 percent blame the price rise on OPEC, while 12 percent hold the Clinton Administration responsible and
4 percent blame the Republican Congress. As you can see from the chart, lots of people believe higher prices are putting a damper on their driving. We'll see if "pump shock" prompts summer vacationers to fly to Paris, France, instead of driving to Paris, Texas. While people complain about the jump in prices, just 11 percent of respondents called it a "crisis" for themselves, versus 48 percent saying it's "a crisis only for lower-income people." Another 27 percent volunteered that it's a crisis for themselves and those with lower incomes, while 10 percent said it's not a crisis for anyone. In a sign of distress at the pump, 39 percent said they'd approve of the U.S. "improving its relationship with Iran in order to obtain lower gasoline prices."

mixed blessings: Smokeless at Boot Camp, Fearless in Philly, Etc.
Here's more grist for the mills of anti-tobacco campaigners. As recounted in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, a study of Army recruits found those who'd smoked were more likely than nonsmokers to suffer injuries during basic training. Among male recruits, 40 percent of those who'd smoked before joining the Army sustained injuries, versus 29 percent of those who weren't smokers. Among female recruits, the gap was 56 percent versus 46 percent. Actually, tobacco proponents might regard this as a study in the perils of quitting cigarettes, since training was conducted in a "smoke-free environment." Might recruits who suddenly went "smoke-free" have been jittery (hence, injury-prone) as a result? Anyhow, background data from the study rebuts the notion that tobacco stunts one's growth: As a group, the smokers were a shade taller than the nonsmokers.

Nixon-haters must have turned pale on seeing posters created by The Ramey Agency of Memphis, Tenn. Could the former president have risen from the grave to run for office again? Closer inspection would reveal that the campaign-style posters were drumming up interest in a local production of a play about the dƒnouement of his presidency. We may not have Nixon to kick around, but we'll always have drama to boot.

While grown-up literature concerns itself with human nature, books for the pre-literate and the newly literate give top billing to the lesser beasts. That tendency is reflected in an Offspring magazine survey that asked librarians to choose the best books for kids in various age groups. For infancy through preschool, top honors went to The Very Hungry Caterpillar. For kindergarten through second grade, the librarians made Frog and Toad Are Friends the top choice. Charlotte's Web led the list for grades three through five, and The Giver was the winner for grades six through eight.

Having trouble finding warm bodies to staff your agency's creative department? You're not alone. A survey of agency executives by The Creative Group, a California-based staffing service, finds 47 percent saying it's "significantly more challenging" to find full-time, qualified creatives than was the case three years ago. Another 31 percent say that task has become "somewhat more challenging." Just 4 percent said it has become easier to find full-time creative staffers.

A controversy for our times: A Gallup poll finds 23 percent of Americans opposed to daylight savings time, of all things. That's up a notch from a 1990 survey on the subject, when the forces of daytime darkness totaled 21 percent of the respondent pool. But it represents a sharp drop from a 1956 Gallup poll, when 43 percent rallied to the standard of year-round standard time.

Most ads emphasize the product benefit for the person who'll be buying the stuff. An ad for Tylenol Menstrual takes a broader view, suggesting that purchase of the brand may bring pain relief for men as well as women. Seldom has Raggedy Ann seemed as ragged. Created by Saatchi & Saatchi of Toronto, the posters appear in women's rest rooms around Canada. One can only hope the ad doesn't give the wrong idea to otherwise pacific sufferers of menstrual discomfort.

If you can guess which client ran a TV spot boasting of its fearlessness about intimacy, you're either a clairvoyant of astonishing powers or a Philadelphia Phillies fan. (Or both.) The onscreen super precedes a video clip in which a Phillies catcher taps his forehead (still encased in a face mask) against the bill of a Phillies pitcher's cap. (The battery mates seem to be celebrating the last out of a Phils victory.) We also learn the team is unafraid of heights (an outfielder leaps to keep a ball from going over the fence) and of flying (a head-first slide). Last but not least: "And we sure as heck have no fear of Ken Griffey Jr.," newly arrived in the National League. We'll see about that. Goose of Philadelphia created the commercial in conjunction with the team's in-house staff.

the answer: Religious Faith Matters More Than Once a Week
When Americans say religion is important to them, as a majority did in a recent Gallup poll, they're not thinking solely of where they'll end up in an afterlife. As another of the Gallup questions makes clear, people who are religious believe it matters in the here and now. The poll asked, "Do you believe that religion can answer all or most of today's problems, or that religion is largely old-fashioned and out of date?" In all, 66 percent put themselves in the "can answer" camp, versus 21 percent terming religion "old-fashioned" and 13 percent offering no opinion. Such faith was not confined to credulous illiterates. Indeed, respondents with post-graduate education were more likely than high-school dropouts (62 percent versus 58 percent) to believe religion can answer today's problems. The figure was 70 percent among those with a high-school diploma, 71 percent among those with some college and 59 percent among college graduates. For all the recent talk of a spiritual awakening in this country, 58 percent of respondents said "religion as a whole" is losing its influence on American life. Thirty-seven percent said religion is increasing its influence. In a poll last spring, 62 percent saw a diminution in religion's influence and 32 percent saw an increase.

virtual influence: Putting the Web to Work As an Entertainment Guide
Online entertainment is not the enemy of the offline variety, according to a report by Forrester Research of Cambridge, Mass. Among young Internet surfers, anyway, Web sites and chat rooms are influencing choices of CDs, movies and the like rather than cutting into the time and money spent on such things. The report says nearly 60 percent of wired 16-22-year-olds use the Web to research their entertainment choices, mainly due to the convenience it offers. One in four of these young folks report spending more money on CDs, concert tickets, videos/DVDs and computer games than they did before becoming Internet habituƒs. Among those who surf entertainment-related sites, seven in 10 say this activity "directly influences" their offline choices of CDs, movies and so on.

newcomers: Around the Wide World, Women Coming to the Web
Cyberspace may have been largely a male preserve back when Al Gore invented the Internet, but the gender gap is closing. Indeed, a global study by the Angus Reid Group predicts women will outnumber men among this year's newcomers to the Internet. At present, says the report, the world's online population is 59 percent male and 41 percent female. Among those intending to make their online debut this year, though, the skew is 54 percent female to 46 percent male. The female percentage of newcomers will hit 60 percent, the study predicts, in countries ranging from the U.S. to Finland to Australia. The lure of e-mail is particularly strong for women ready to take the e-plunge. Will these new Internet users mean a flood of revenue for online retailers? On that score, the report offers a note of caution. Respondents who haven't yet joined the online population list e-commerce fourth among the factors that would prompt them to do so--behind information/research, communications and "general curiosity." The research firm suggests that "newcomers to the Net need time to get comfortable with browsing, research and e-mail" before they'll start to buy things online.

capital in the capitol: Not That Big Business Isn't Very Nice in Its Way
Americans look askance at political action committees and lobbyists. Their distrust of the media is a fixture of civic life. But in judging the way Washington policymakers are subjected to undue influence, people reserve their greatest suspicion for big companies. Asked whether various groups have too much or too little influence in Washington, 84 percent of respondents to a Harris poll said big companies have too much. PACs were close behind on the "too much" roster, cited by 83 percent, while the news media (77 percent) and political lobbyists (74 percent) also drew plenty of fire. Though 39 percent said labor unions have too much influence, 40 percent said they have too little. Elsewhere on the list, racial minorities posted a tally of 32 percent "too much" and 50 percent "too little." For churches/religious groups, the split was 27 percent "too much" versus 52 percent "too little." Showing they aren't hostile to the political interests of private enterprise across the board, 85 percent of respondents said small business has too little influence, while a mere 5 percent said it wields too much. The irony here is that consortia of small companies scored one of the biggest Washington victories of recent years when they derailed the Clinton healthcare plan during the president's first term.

small change: Corporate Rome Didn't Get Internet-Savvy in a Day
They talk the e-talk. But big companies have been slower to walk the e-walk. A study by PricewaterhouseCoopers and The Conference Board finds more than two-thirds of global corporations now have a "systematic, strategic approach to Internet-based initiatives," and top executives are getting involved in these efforts. More than half the companies analyzed, however, "have no method in place to assess the success of their e-business programs." Twenty-five percent "haven't established adequate e-business functionality beyond basic online 'brochureware.' " In part, this lackluster performance reflects the fact that most big corporations still make their money in the offline world. For a majority of the companies in the study, e-commerce brings in less than 5 percent of revenues.

it's debatable: Casting Their Votes Against Campaign Spots
Free speech is all well and good, but many Americans find it annoying in the context of elections. A recent CBS News poll asked registered voters whether they think presidential-campaign commercials "are unnecessary and should be eliminated." Though 60 percent said such spots are necessary, 32 percent would like to see an end to them. Voters were also asked whether they'd favor Al Gore's proposal that he and George W. Bush eliminate TV spots and instead debate twice a week. Sixty-five percent thought this would be a "good idea," versus 30 percent terming it a "bad idea." Is this because civic-minded voters want to watch two presidential debates a week? Hah! The real reason they'd prefer debates to TV spots is that debates--confined to specific times and places on the TV dial--are easy to ignore. Campaign commercials, by contrast, turn up at any time and can't be dodged. For the same reason, I'd bet most Americans would prefer that McDonald's and Burger King hold twice-weekly debates instead of running commercials all the time.

not bad, not great: Auditing the Finances Of Today's Young Adults
It's hard to sustain slackerly disaffection when the economy keeps booming year after year. A Heinz Family Philanthropy/Newsweek poll suggests most 18-34-year-olds have given up trying to do so. As you can see from the chart, contentment is more the rule than the exception in broad measures of well-being. And 59 percent of 18-34s expect their financial situation to improve during the next 12 months, versus 7 percent believing it will get worse. This cheery outlook is based in part on their experience in the recent past. One in four respondents in that age group said their household income is "a lot higher" now than it was five years ago; another 38 percent said it's simply "higher." Though they've yet to hit their high-earning years, only 10 percent described their current financial situation as "poor." (But another 46 percent said it's "only fair.") Forty-three percent already own their own home.
There are signs of financial strain in this cohort, however. Twenty-eight percent said they "always" scrape along from paycheck to paycheck, and another 18 percent said they do so "most of the time." Their comfy standard of living is often based on a shaky foundation of debt, with 56 percent saying they feel "stressed out from taking on more debt" than they can handle. Along the same lines, 38 percent have been unable to keep up payments on a loan, and 31 percent have maxed out their credit cards. Little wonder, then, that 33 percent report being "very concerned" about being unable to maintain their current standard of living. Some fears are endemic to the stage of life 18-34-year-olds inhabit. For example, 47 percent said they feel very concerned about being unable to save enough money to put a kid through college.
Among other tidbits from the survey:
29 percent of the 18-34-year-olds claimed to be saving enough for retirement, while 24 percent are saving but "not enough." Another 44 percent aren't regular savers. Twenty-four percent have shared in the stock-market boom, while 69 percent have missed out on it. Notwithstanding today's tight labor market, 34 percent reported feeling very concerned they might lose their job or be forced to take a pay cut.

confident: Not That the Old Folks Didn't Do Their Best
So much for downward mobility. It wasn't long ago that young adults lamented the seeming impossibility of duplicating their parents' standard of living. Amid the current boom, though, an online poll by Jobtrak.com finds college students and recent graduates confident they'll surpass the parental unit. Sixty-six percent said they'll probably be more successful than their folks; 21 percent expect to do "as well." Just 13 percent said, "I'll never catch up to them." Will this widespread confidence make young adults patronizing toward their parents? Perhaps it'll make them more brazen about tapping Mom and Dad for a loan, since they'll feel sure of their ability to pay it back