Anything But Wealthy, Eating For Energy, Etc.

“Prestige” has lost prestige. “Luxury” is a luxury well-to-do women can forgo. Those are among the findings of a poll fielded by Applied Research & Consulting for Traditional Home magazine. The respondents—women age 35-50 in home-owning households with median income of $150,000—were asked to gauge the importance to them of various brand characteristics. Ninety-five percent said they’re willing to splurge on “high-quality craftsmanship”; 93 percent will spend to get “good performance.” Fewer than half as many (37 percent) “will spend top dollar simply for a prestigious brand.” Just 16 percent described their lifestyle as “luxurious,” with even fewer calling it “fancy” (7 percent). That’s consistent with a fact seen in other polls and confirmed in this one: Upper-income Americans seldom classify themselves as upper-class. Most of the women said they’re either “upper-middle class” (38 percent), “comfortable” (30 percent) or “middle class” (15 percent). Fewer than one in five described themselves as “well off” (8 percent), “affluent” (7 percent) or “wealthy” (3 percent). It’s often said that class war is an ineffectual political tactic in this country, since many people with modest incomes think they’ll be rich someday. Perhaps it’s also true that the rich aren’t offended by populist eat-the-rich rhetoric, since few of them regard themselves as belonging to that edible class.

Shopping is good for your health? That’s the conclusion apparel marketers will eagerly draw from this finding in a Self magazine reader poll about fitness: “A new workout outfit makes one in five readers exercise harder.” One wonders whether this benefit is offset, though, by a tendency of people to eat more when they’ve bought a new set of dishes.

If motorists feel paranoid when they drive through Buffalo, N.Y., they can blame a billboard for Ford’s Western New York dealer group. For that matter, pedestrians who are frightened by gigantic state-trooper hats will pick up their pace as they pass through the downtown area where the billboard is situated. Eric Mower and Associates of Buffalo is the agency behind the distinctive effort.

Analgesic-company shareholders, rest easy: Consumers are increasingly alert to the peril of taking high doses of over-the-counter painkillers, according to research presented at this month’s annual meeting of the American Gastroenterological Association. (Love to be the caterer for that one, eh?) But this knowledge has made them no less likely to take more than the recommended dosage of aspirin, ibuprofen and the like. As summarized by the HealthScout Web site, a survey last year found 59 percent of respondents “concerned about side effects associated with over-the-counter analgesics,” vs. 18 percent in 1997. (These effects range from stomach upset to stomach bleeding, and are fatal in thousands of cases each year.) Nonetheless, 44 percent of respondents to the recent poll said they take more than the recommended dosage, up from 26 percent in the earlier survey.

Who’s afraid of bank mergers? Not banks themselves. A report by Boston Consulting Group says banking outperformed almost all other industries last year in boosting its stock-market value. And “global banking titans” were conspicuous among the winners, which helps explain why consolidation in global banking is “accelerating.” But what do banks’ clients think of the industry’s predilection for mergers? Not much, to judge by a Maritz Poll. One in four of the Maritz respondents said they’d been through a bank merger in the past year, and more than half had seen their bank merge within the past five years. “While 55 percent of households who have been through a bank merger don’t think it has made a difference, one in five said they were worse off as a result of the merger, while one in seven thought they were better off.” Among those feeling worse off post-merger, what are their main complaints? “Not as personal” led the list (mentioned by 24 percent), followed by “higher fees” (23 percent) and “service decreased” (22 percent). Among people whose banks are now merging, most said they’d either stay put (51 percent) or wait to see what happens (35 percent). “But 13 percent were currently looking for another bank.”

Turn a cliché inside-out and you might find something new. That’s what Microsoft’s Office for Mac accomplishes. The old notion that stiff, suit-wearing types should find their inner Beat poet is stale. But the idea that free-wheeling bohemians can tap into their inner Suit is comparatively novel. Under the heading, “Cultivate your corporate self,” copy urges the reader to “Focus on coming up with the idea while the other you runs it by your boss.” The ad doesn’t try to position Microsoft as hip (thank goodness), but it does make the brand seem suitable for hip professionals who want to succeed in their work. McCann Erickson San Francisco created the campaign.

No wonder the mail is always full of solicitations asking people to switch credit cards. Consumer disloyalty is rife. Bankrate Consumer Focus polled visitors to the credit-card-rate pages of the Web site, asking how long they keep a credit card. A stalwart 26 percent said they keep a card for 10 years or more; 11 percent do so for seven to nine years. But they were outnumbered by those who do so for four to seven years (37 percent) or one to three years (25 percent).

Boys hoping to add girlfriends to their summer-vacation diversions will have a better chance of doing so if they look like Orlando Bloom. An online poll by YM magazine presented a list of five male celebrities and asked readers which one they’d “want to have a summer fling with.” Bloom won a plurality of votes (34 percent), though Ashton Kutcher ran a close second (30 percent). Adam Brody (19 percent) and Nick Cannon (14 percent) lagged. Diego Luna (3 percent) was, as they say in the horse-racing press, “not a factor.” Sticking with the seasonal theme, the poll also asked girls to say which of three female celebs has “the best summer style.” Kate Hudson garnered 58 percent of the vote, with Drew Barrymore a respectable second (34 percent) and Eva Mendes a distant third (8 percent).

If Americans aren’t more energetic, it’s not for lack of trying. A report by Mintel says the energy-supplement food category grew from $2 billion in sales in 1998 to $5 billion last year. And the research firm expects the figure to reach $8 billion in 2008. Energy bars have the best growth potential, says the report, because they appeal to the widest range of consumers. Protein drinks are forecast to experience “incremental growth” as they extend beyond their core market of athletes and dieters. By this January, 36 percent of consumers had ingested some sort of energy supplement, vs. 28 percent in December 2001. Will the category retain its aura of muscular vigor as well-toned gym rats account for a smaller and smaller proportion of sales? One suspects the brands’ advertising will somehow compensate for any such deficiency.