COMMON GROUND: Couch Potatoes Through the Ages We can’t turn on the TV without some expert informing us that new technologies are transforming our lives. But the fact that we do turn on the TV is a prime example of social continuity. Consider the findings of a recent Gallup poll: Asked to cite their “favorite way to spend an evening,” American adults put “watching television” atop the list–just as they’ve unfailingly done for four decades. If you add the 31 percent who gave that answer to the 7 percent who chose “watching movies at home,” TV-related leisure polled as many votes as the next two answers combined (20 percent for “being with family, husband, wife” and 18 percent for “reading”). By contrast, just 3 percent said a jaunt into cyberspace is their fave. The year-in, year-out devotion to television points to the dual nature of the medium: It destabilizes traditional norms by bringing people ideas and images they would not otherwise receive, but the activity (or inactivity) of sitting in front of the tube gives a predictable pattern to their daily lives. Though 20-year-olds and their grandparents watch different shows, TV viewing is one of the most visible things they have in common. The future would seem much more alien to us if we felt its inhabitants would spend their evenings reading Wordsworth rather than planting themselves on a couch and watching Star Trek, the 352nd Generation. DOING GOOD AND WELL: The Favorite Cause Politicians now justify every policy proposal by invoking the wonderful effect it will have on “the children.” Companies seeking to improve their images by supporting a good cause can take this as a cue. And some new research points in the same direction. In a Roper Starch survey about cause marketing, consumers were asked to cite the issue in which they most want to see companies involved. Public education, which didn’t make the top three in a 1993 survey, went to the top of the list this time. (Crime and the environment ranked second and third.) Childcare, which ranked 14th in ’93, jumped to seventh place. In all, 74 percent of respondents find it acceptable for companies to engage in cause-related marketing, up from 66 percent in ’93. The polling was conducted for Boston-based Cone Inc., a marketing firm that develops and implements such programs. SPARE THE ROD?: My Parenting Would Be OK If My Kids Just Behaved The numbers in the top chart should give you some idea of why the well-behaved kids who populate TV commercials are an affront to many parents. (The figures come from online polls conducted via a Web site called Parent Soup.) After coping with their own kid’s umpteenth tantrum of the week, do parents really want to see some child of the same age being adorable in a spot for minivans or cereal or whatever? In any event, the lower of the two charts indicates that people are quite willing to depart from the parenting style of their own ma and pa, even if the results they get are appalling at times. Another poll on the same Web site asked, “Were you less prepared to become a parent than your mother was?” Just 19 percent said “yes,” with 64 percent saying “no” and the rest saying “about the same.” Oh, sure, we often see kids in commercials misbehaving in some cutesy, telegenic way. But that doesn’t count. When will advertisers be bold enough to show truly unpleasant kids in their spots? They’d win the undying loyalty of many an adult. As the lower chart suggests, people are quite willing to depart from the parenting style of their own parents. It’s no less offensive, of course, to see TV-spot parents being effortlessly warm and wise with their kids. As the lower chart suggests, issues of discipline are touchy for parents, many of whom are handling things differently, drawn from an online poll on the Parent Soup Website, , but may Why aren’t the children NO EXIT STRATEGY: One Last Reason to Dislike Miller Lite’s ‘Dick’ You can’t get there from here. That is the nature of Miller Lite’s difficulty as it launches new spots sans “Dick” and the all-around weirdness the fictitious adman brought to the brand’s previous campaign. In the latest series, we find former pro athletes debating the merits of the beer–with, for instance, George Brett ascribing Lite’s appeal to its smoothness and Robin Yount arguing that it’s due to the choice hops. In other words, the brand is harking back to the much-loved “tastes great, less filling” campaign that put it on the map in the first place, just as nostalgists long have hoped it would do. So, why will many of us feel the new spots are rather flat? The problem, I suspect, is that a couple years of bizarre spots have shaped our sense of the brand in such a way that unbizarre spots now seem pedestrian–even if they would otherwise have seemed likable. The moral of the story is that once a brand has gone weird, it can’t simply undo the deed and expect consumers to follow in train. No ad campaign lasts forever, so marketers are inviting trouble if they let today’s work leave them in a position from which there’s not a smooth transition to tomorrow’s. IT’S UP, IT’S GOOD!: One Man’s Drug Is Another Man’s Metaphor If Viagra fails to catch on, it won’t be for lack of free publicity. As a genre, the gratuitous Viagra reference in ads for unrelated brands has gone from novelty to clichƒ in record time. Lest you imagine that such allusions are confined to matters of the flesh, one recent ad links the product to the life of the mind. After a semester or two at Valencia Community College in Florida, will students feel like smoking a cigarette and then dozing off? If so, blame Fry Hammond Barr of Orlando, which created the ad. In a more subtle variation on the Viagra theme, an ad for Einstein Moomjy (via The GFS/ Levinson Group of New York) touts an India-pattern carpet under the headline, “Buy Agra.” Not to be outdone, the ad’s body copy then refers to this carpet as “the wonder rug.” MIXED BLESSINGS: Those Ascetic Writers, Parental Life and Death, Hair-Raising Arizona, Etc. Agency copywriters who dream of becoming screenwriters may wish to heed a recent poll conducted by Details among movie-industry folk in Hollywood. One of the questions the magazine posed: “Who has the most sex–producers, directors, actors, writers or agents/managers?” A grand total of 1 percent of respondents thought writers were doing best in that department. Directors (10 percent) and producers (16 percent) fared better in the voting, though neither came close to the tally for actors (64 percent). If you’re putting together an ad for a dance performance, nobody will complain if its visual device is a bit of a leap. And the image of a ballerina in a gas mask will certainly win attention for an event in smoggy Los Angeles. (It’s a benefit for youth-services programs at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center.) Team One Advertising of El Segundo created the ad, thereby giving eco-curmudgeons leeway to suggest the agency has contributed amply to local smog with its efforts for Lexus’s big cars. When a mother complains that her unruly children are driving her to an early grave, she may speak more truly than she knows. As noted in the current issue of Discover magazine, analysis of genealogical records of British aristocrats finds “nearly half of all women who survived past 81 were childless.” The figures for men were similar. If the pattern holds true for non-aristos as well, it’s suggestive for the way advertisers should speak to parents. Rather than address them as gratification-deferring custodians of mankind’s future, perhaps ads should egg them on to “eat, drink and be merry” while they’ve got the chance. Honors for the Best Fight Scene Between Lincoln and Gandhi go this week to the Washington Apple Commission. In a series of spots, a superhero named Apple Guy zips around town to bring Washington apples to folks whose flagging energy level has left them in a state of collapse. (The apples instantly revive them.) One spot brings Apple Guy to a shopping mall, and as he zips past a store called Costume Barn, we glimpse a shoving match between two men–one clad as the Mahatma, the other as Honest Abe. Don’t see that every day, now do you? McCann-Erickson of Seattle created the spot, with Crash Films’ Billy Kent as the director. It’s been quite a while since Charlie’s Angels collared their last crook, but the image of the ’70s TV series lives on in the collective consciousness. The show’s logo is a natural icon for a hair salon whose motto is: “We’re not just cutting hair, we’re conquering evil.” (Moses Anshell of Phoenix, Ariz., created the ad for the Scottsdale salon.) The allusion to the show could lead one to suspect the salon specializes in big hair. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing in a state where a recent governor was famous for her architectural hairdo. Titanic has yet to sink in moviegoers’ esteem. In a pre-Oscar reader poll by USA Weekend, it was picked as “best Oscar-winning movie of the decade,” pulling 34 percent of the vote. Schindler’s List (20 percent) edged Forrest Gump (19 percent) for second place. When people were asked to pick the young actor and actress who’ll be the biggest stars “in the new millennium,” Gwyneth Paltrow (33 percent) and Leonardo DiCaprio (26 percent) were the winners. Cameron Diaz ran second among the actresses (23 percent), and Will Smith was the male runner-up (21 percent).