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Among all the notions Americans disbelieve these days, few evoke more incredulity than the claim that cigarette ads aim solely at moving current smokers to switch brands. Under the circumstances, tobacco companies would do better to say they are urging people to switch vices--or, rather, to reallocate the time and money they allot to various vices. The underlying theory would be that people want to have some vice in their lives but haven't the wherewithal to indulge much more in total than they're already doing. Greater indulgence in one vice will mean less of another. So, here's a proposal designed to preserve freedom of commercial speech while keeping us off the road to perdition: Marketers of licit vices like smoking and drinking can advertise their own wares as much as they like, but each ad must include an attack on some other vice. Tobacco companies might append attacks on excessive drinking, for instance, while liquor companies urge their customers not to smoke. Profit-minded marketers would have their hearts in these calls to virtue as they battle for shares of our indiscretionary spending. And these messages would carry real heft coming from companies that know how we relish our bad habits, not from prim do-gooders who don't understand the lure of such pleasures. Give it a try, and may the best vice win.





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VEGETARIAN LOVERS: IS THAT AN EGGPLANT IN YOUR DIET OR





Americans have stoutly resisted the advice of health professionals that they consume a zillion servings of vegetables each day to ensure a long and robust life. But some unscientific polling by Veggie Single News ('the magazine for vegetarian singles') points to a different theme the vegetable biz might exploit in peddling its nutritious wares. Respondents to the survey (including veg-heads and meat-heads alike) said vegetarians 'have more energy and greater stamina, especially in erotic situations, probably because they don't have the clogged arteries of meat eaters that inhibits blood flow to the genitals.' And people who ingest a 'nonviolent diet' are viewed as being 'more gentle and giving and more highly sensitive to their lovers' needs,' while meat-eaters are more selfish.





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RATING RATINGS: TRY 'W' FOR WATCHABLE, 'U' FOR UNWATCHABLE





Whatever the merits of the TV industry's new content ratings, they run afoul of a problem likely to afflict any such system: People love to complain, especially about TV. In a USA Weekend survey on the topic, respondents leapt at the chance to condemn the current method. Only 3 percent endorsed a system based on 'age-appropriateness,' with 65 percent wanting inclusion of labels for various types of offensive content. Respondents also found the system confusing, as well as too lenient toward many top-rated shows. Nonetheless, when asked whether they have found the ratings helpful, 53 percent of respondents said they're 'somewhat' helpful and 16 percent declared them 'very helpful,' versus 23 percent who said they're 'not very helpful.' Considering how many things in life are absolutely unhelpful, it's interesting that people are eager to heap scorn on a system that's of some assistance. In part, viewers may be blaming the messenger as a way of lashing out against TV itself. The survey found 92 percent of respondents saying shows are 'more offensive than ever.' And if that's the case, even a flawless ratings system will get us just so far.





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CHECKUP: FEELING IN THE PINK, CORRECTLY OR OTHERWISE





The good news: 23 percent of American men describe their health as 'excellent' and another 39 percent rate it 'very good.' The bad news: A large percentage of these men haven't given a doctor the chance to confirm or dispute that cheerful self-diagnosis. According to a survey of adult men conducted for Men's Health magazine and CNN, 35 percent of respondents didn't get to a doctor in the past 12 months for an annual checkup. Indeed, one-quarter of those polled haven't had a checkup in two years and one-tenth haven't had one in five years. Among those who haven't had a checkup in the past 12 months, 50 percent cited the cost while 40 percent said that they haven't had the time. Among other excuses: 34 percent 'don't trust doctors' and 29 percent think 'only sick people go.' It's not as though men don't worry about their health. Asked which diseases they believe they're very likely or somewhat likely to develop at some point, the survey's respondents put heart disease at the top of the list (56 percent), with prostate cancer (49 percent), skin cancer (41 percent), lung cancer (34 percent) and AIDS (9 percent) ranging farther down the list. Among other health problems provoking worry among many men are high blood pressure (55 percent), high cholesterol (54 percent) and diabetes (34 percent). What, if anything, are men doing to limit their health risks? A suspiciously high 63 percent claim they exercise regularly, while 68 percent say they limit their alcohol intake. Thirty-six percent say they're losing weight. As you might guess from the recent proliferation of 'cigar bars,' many men don't take cigars seriously as a health threat. Just 9 percent of respondents cited cigars as a bigger danger than cigarettes, with another 13 percent rating cigars and cigarettes as equally lethal. Finally, just under half the respondents hold out hope for a baldness cure in their lifetimes. But a majority feel that men should simply play the scalp that nature has dealt them, with only 30 percent agreeing that men should seek treatment for their baldness.





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RUN AND EAT: TREATING RESTAURANTS AS THE FAMILY KITCHEN





Do you fret about getting reservations at the hot restaurant of the moment? Try not to be so passe. As the toilsome '90s grind on, the real trendsetters are jostling for position at the takeout counter. Research by The NPD Group finds American consumers crossed a threshold last year (and quickly crossed it again on the way out) as more restaurant meals were taken out than eaten on the premises--the first time in recorded history that such a thing has happened. Actually, the margin was narrow, with 51 percent of restaurant meals taken out and 49 percent eaten in. But the takeout figure is up sharply from the 41 percent recorded 10 years earlier. During the past 10 years, says NPD, takeout meals eaten with the kids have been among the fastest-growing categories of restaurant fare. But demographic factors aren't static, and as baby boomers' kids come of age, NPD expects kidless meals eaten at restaurants to become the industry's key growth sector. The Port Washington, N.Y.-based research firm forecasts that on-premise weekday lunches without kids will be up 80 million per year by 2010, while weekend dinners without kids will be up 61 million and weekday dinners sans offspring will be up 48 million.





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BIG SPENDERS: LET'S PACK THE GERITOL AND HIT THE OPEN ROAD





They may or may not be set in their ways, but they certainly aren't sitting still. A new study finds consumers age 50 and over spend 74 percent more on their vacations than do people age 18-49. Conducted by Jersey City, N.J.-based Directions for Decisions, the study finds the older folks forking out an average of $4,794 on vacations last year, versus $2,757 for the younger cohort. Canada was the favorite destination of 50-plus vacationers, with 28 percent having gone there in the past five years and 52 percent intending to do so in the future. But a striking number of people aren't managing to go away on vacation at all: 73 percent of the younger segment and 69 percent of the older group reported taking at least one vacation trip last year, which leaves an awful lot who were stuck at home for one reason or another.





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MIXED BLESSINGS





The Unloved Dead, Agency Impedimenta, That 25th Hour, Etc.





Honors for Rhetorical Question of the Week go to the ad for Crunch fitness centers (via DDB Needham, New York) that asks whether you want to look like a dead guy. While the ad enlivens Crunch's brand identity, it also reflects the low esteem accorded the dead these days. As a class, dead people now command less respect than they have in living memory, and far less than they did in the bygone days when reverence toward one's ancestors was a fixture of daily life. Expressions of disrespect are not confined to the low-brow precincts of advertising. When culture warriors at universities attack the curricular canon, they direct their scorn toward 'dead white males,' as though each part of that epithet identified an oppressor class. At best, the dead are on a par with someone who has slipped on a banana peel--an object of our pity, but also more than a little ridiculous. Why do we subject the dead to this mortifying treatment? In days when death at an early age was more common, it wasn't necessarily linked in the popular mind with senescent decrepitude. You could be in the flower of your youth one day and dead of cholera, say, the next. More aware of their mortality than we are today, people of all ages then felt a vested interest in seeing that the dead were treated respectfully. With our modern-day hubris, we disbelieve the certainty of our own demise and have no such sense of common cause with the dead. But they'll have the last laugh.





Even the Cat in the Hat didn't sport as lovely a lid as the one gracing an ad for Hyundai color monitors--though the hat's shape was much the same. Since most people like hats better than computers, it's a clever way of giving the brand an edge over its humorless competition. Cornyn Shen of San Francisco created the ad.





If you're a 20something and you work at TBWA Chiat/Day, congratulations! You've got a job at one of 'The Top Companies for 20somethings,' according to Swing magazine. 'Swing scoured the country for innovative, growing firms that actively recruit young staffers and offer competitive benefits, opportunities for growth within the company, and good quality of work life,' says an item in the June issue's Career Section. The agency was among 'the best' of those meeting the criteria. If you're thinking of jumping to the client side, Microsoft, Hallmark and Scholastic also made the list.





It's said that the key assets of an ad agency leave by the elevator each evening. But plenty of other stuff accumulates and accumulates in the office. Minneapolis agency Cevette & Co. plays off that sorry fact of life in a card sent out to announce its move to new quarters. Designed as a parody of cheesy ads for retailers' clearance sales, the card will be of special interest to connoisseurs of 'former employee personnel files.' And who among us would not be tempted by the 'thousands of food items from our breakroom refrigerator!' No doubt potential clients will be impressed by the verve Cevette brings to promoting useless objects.





If there were 25 hours in a day, you could use the extra hour to get more work done. But you wouldn't have much company in making that choice. Asked in a Yankel-ovich Partners poll how they would use the hour, 52 percent of respondents said they'd spend it with their families, while 18 percent would relax and 15 percent would exercise. Just 6 percent of those surveyed said they would use the time to work--the same percentage as those who'd catch an extra hour of sleep.





Copyright ASM Communications, Inc. (1997) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED





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