Above-Average Men, Organic Toddlers, Etc.

It’s a pity that women aren’t as capable as men. In Yankelovich polling, excerpted in one of the company’s Monitor Minute news-letters, 69 percent of men reported that they are “able to do things better than the average person.” Just 53 percent of women said the same. Unlike the average man, it seems, the average woman is not above-average.

Not that wealth wouldn’t be nice, too. Nonetheless, a Decision Analyst survey finds it has less appeal for Americans than leisure time does. Asked about their goals in life, 68 percent of respondents said leisure time is “extremely important” or “very important” to them. By contrast, 29 percent said the same about “acquiring wealth.” Fewer still assigned such importance to “living luxuriously” (13 percent). Leisure enjoyed a bigger-than-average constituency among people age 18-34, with 77 percent saying it’s extremely/very important to them. It also scored well among people with incomes of $100,000-plus, among whom 76 percent said it’s that important to them.

When house prices were rising, economists agreed that the resulting wealth factor was boosting consumer spending—even among people who hadn’t turned some home equity into ready cash by refinancing their mortgages. Now that house prices are falling, there have been fears that this might bring on a severe downturn in consumer spending. A Gallup poll, fielded in the latter half of last month, gives an indication of why this has yet to happen: A plurality of Americans believe house prices will rise rather than fall in the next 12 months (see the chart). Note, however, that reality has exerted at least some influence on perception. The proportion of people who think house prices will rise is down from 60 percent in a Gallup poll conducted this past April, while the number who expect prices to decline has risen from 11 percent. Falling prices would surely be bad news for people who own a house and need to sell it, but media coverage has tended to ignore the fact that it’s good news for those buying a house for the first time. Marketers would do well to target first-time home buyers who paid considerably less for a house than they thought they’d have to and, hence, are not as tapped out as they would otherwise be.

The problem for marketers of foods aimed at babies and toddlers: Demographic trends don’t indicate a dramatic increase in the number of young mouths to feed in the years just ahead. The solution: Sell their parents foods that are more expensive than today’s norm. A report by Mintel forecasts that this is just what will happen. Mintel expects the overall market for baby foods and beverages to rise only marginally in the next five years, from an estimated $3.5 billion this year to $3.6 billion in 2011. But some companies will latch onto a bigger share of that increase by emphasizing organic foods, which are priced “roughly 69 percent more than conventional varieties.” The organic niche has already displayed significant growth, but it’s poised for further gains as 61 percent of mothers declare it’s very important to them that a baby food be “all natural.” As for toddlers, many now make do with grown-up foods (cut, presumably, into smaller bites). This leaves room for growth in sales of toddler-specific foods, says the report. Mintel found that mothers who use or plan to use such foods “value the fact that these products are nutritious and convenient.” Moreover, “60 percent said they choose these foods because they are easier for toddlers to grip and feed to themselves.”

Honors for Best Use of a Pre-Owned Chariot in a Commercial go this week to CarMax, the national chain of used-car dealerships. Set in ancient Rome, the spot opens with a mother and daughter driving their chariot through the gate of a ChariotMax dealership, where they declare their desire to trade it in for a newer ride. The daughter is quite taken with one of the late-model chariots on the lot, and the dealer explains that it’s practically new. “The owner was eaten by a lion.” When the mother asks whether this vehicle’s price “is written in stone,” the dealer replies, “Chiseled, actually.” (No-haggle pricing is one of CarMax’s claims to fame.) At the end of the spot, we’re suddenly transported to modern times and a CarMax dealership, where an updated incarnation of the Roman mother painlessly buys a car and expresses surprise that “no one’s thought of this before.” Automotive ads are often silly. In this case, though, the cheerful goofiness of the spot helps underscore the point that CarMax is radically different from a conventional used-car dealership. Boone/Oakley of Charlotte, N.C., created the commercial.

Here’s one more thing for mothers to feel guilty about: They misperceive the weight of their young daughters in ways that make them less sensitive to incipient obesity. Researchers at Columbus Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, asked girls age 9 and 10 about their bodies, and then quizzed the mothers about their daughters’ physiques. The girls generally judged their weight accurately, but their mothers tended to see them as thinner than they are. Daughters at low or normal Body Mass Index percentiles “expressed satisfaction with their body size, whereas their mothers felt they were too thin. In higher BMI percentiles, the daughters appropriately felt they were too heavy, whereas their mothers felt they were near ideal weight.” Although this tendency in the latter cases may encourage a mother to support a “positive body image” on her daughter’s part, it also constrains the mother’s ability to recognize a weight problem while the daughter is still young.