Basics, Schmasics: Plenty Of Time For Austerity In The Sweet By-And-By Apparently, 1998 won’t be the year in which the meek inherit the earth. It isn’t just that people now spend at a pace that makes the ’80s look miserly. As the Lincoln ad indicates, the spree has an edge to it–an in-your-face rejection of the hair-shirtism that flourished in the early ’90s. Some folks may be “downshifting” into “voluntary simplicity,” but avid consumers take that as a provocation to buy more. It’s a sign of the times that “consumerism” has evolved from a term for Naderite activism to a word denoting people’s systematic acquisitiveness. It’s the one ism that unites our diverse populace. But it doesn’t unite it all that much. People’s to-hell-with-the-basics spending is more self-centered than the old desire to keep up with the Joneses–an impulse that was, after all, sociable in its way. The fields of acquisition are now so diverse and specialized that a consumer with discretionary income must pick his major, so to speak. And his choice may give him nothing in common with his free-spending acquaintances. It can’t last forever, of course. Remarking on the first “negative savings rate” since the Depression, the headline of a recent op-ed piece in The New York Times said we’re “Spending Ourselves Into Oblivion.” Squandering their paper profits instead of salting them away, people are setting themselves up for a penurious old age. That’s fine, though. We may be lousy at deferring gratification, but this deficiency means we’ll end up (when we’re old enough to appreciate it) with the simple joys of deferred austerity. Indeed, it may turn out that we’ve misconstrued the biblical prediction all along. If today’s spending brings tomorrow’s frugality, the people who’ve bought everything on earth will become meek after the fact. On The Road: Holiday Data Grab Bag If you see your boss getting tanked at the office party, will you confiscate his car keys and call him a cab? A poll by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Ad Council finds 79 percent of people saying they’d intervene to stop a co-worker from drinking and driving, regardless of who outranks whom. Maybe the holidays bring out the best in people. In a poll on Jane’s Web site, 71 percent of young women said they donate time or money to good causes. Another holiday poll, by Twist magazine, asked online teens to say whose gift they’d spend the most to buy. The winner was “my best bud” (29 percent), edging out Mom (26 percent). Just 1 percent of the ungrateful wretches said they’d spend the most on a present for Dad. Mixed Blessings: Beyond Bugs And Evil, Eating And Running, E-Mail Love Notes, Etc. What evil lurks in the hearts of basements? Living as we do in the Age of Annoyance, we’re apt to be unmoved by the word “pest.” We encounter so many pests in a typical day that the term has worn thin. But “evil,” happily, retains its stopping power. As such, it greatly enlivens an ad for a pest-control service in New Jersey. (Readers can insert their own Jersey-bashing jokes here.) Other ads in the series offer Shearer/Penn’s assistance in ridding your home of “weird” and “creepy” infestations. J&M Advertising of Princeton, N.J., created the series. Sometimes the best cure for “information overload” is more information–or, at any rate, access to better information. A Reuters survey of business managers in 11 countries around the world finds 49 percent of them (including 61 percent of the American respondents) saying the Internet has alleviated info overload. Overall, 52 percent of U.S. managers say the problem is easing, 16 percent say it’s worsening and 29 percent see no change during the past year. Bad news for marketers of knives and forks: Research by New York-based Kalorama Information finds brisk growth in sales of frozen and refrigerated handheld foods. Annual sales for the category have hit $1.6 billion as consumers turn to foods they can ingest on the run. Along the same lines, the firm says “meal kits” (such as Oscar Meyer Lunchables) have grown to become a $1.2 billion market. Is the disembodied realm of cyberspace uncongenial to romance? An online Harris/Excite Poll suggests not. Asked if the advent of e-mail has prompted them to write more romantic notes, 43 percent of participants said “yes, while 17 percent stick with pen and paper. The rest said the question does not apply to them since they “don’t send any love letters, no matter what the medium.” The visual tricks of offbeat marketing can even fool the marketers. That’s what happened with a billboard created by Seattle’s Hammerquist & Halverson for Crystal Mountain Resort. Seeking to shed an image of inhospitality to less-than-expert skiers and families, the resort used billboards in the style of please-forgive-me notes. After running in a teaser version, each billboard would be modified to replace the “Crystal” signature with the resort’s logo. While one of the postings was still in teaser mode, though, the owner of the billboard company happened to drive by. Unaware of the Crystal campaign, he phoned his office to report that a prankster had pasted a private message over the ad of a paying customer. Yikes! We know that some people are devotees of organic food. It’s startling, though, to find that others are adamantly inorganic. In an online poll by Sesame Street Parents, people were asked, “Do you buy organic food for your family?” While 8 percent answered “always,” 44 percent said they “never” buy the stuff–an answer that indicates they make a special point of avoiding such foods. A more easygoing 48 percent “sometimes” go organic. ‘Tis the season for, among other things, lists of what will be “in” and “out” next year. The latest Future Dialogue newsletter from Young & Rubicam’s Brand Futures Group has one. Here’s a sampling: Ads that “edutain” will be in, ads that “inspire fear” will be out. Beauty drinks, in; sports drinks, out. Teletubbies, in; South Park, out. King Hussein, in; Boris Yeltsin, out. Teatime, in; coffeehouses, out. Wooden toys, in; plastic playthings, out. And, for those of you who disdain these low-brow lists: Elitism, in; mass culture, out.