Different Drummer Indeed: Nonconformists? Nonconforming With What? Occasionally, you realize that a word has been overtaken by events and stripped of its meaning. One such instance occurred earlier this month when news reports about the Nobel Prize for literature described its winner (Portuguese novelist Jose Saramago) as a “nonconformist.” Perhaps that term sustains its old resonance in quieter precincts of the Old World. For those of us who inhabit America’s festival of individuality, though, the word seems almost quaint. Here, conformity looks like a lost art. If you can find a dominant culture with which one might march in lock step, more power to you. Just think of the harried media director who pursues the “mass audience” and finds consumers dispersed across the media landscape. People who self-consciously style themselves as nonconformists probably play closer to predictable type than the so-called conformists. Tell me that someone is a nonconformist and a stereotypical set of traits leaps to mind. Tell me that someone is a conformist and I’m at a loss to know which of half-a-dozen possible variants you have in mind. The phenomenon carries over to ads, too. The characters presented as eccentrics, marching to the beat of their own drummers, tend to be cliches; the ones presented as ordinary folks have more individual texture. That’s what happens when different drummers are a dime a dozen. Lapses: High School For Scandal Perhaps Bill Clinton would be better-behaved if the nation’s high-school students weren’t setting such a shoddy example for him. As you can see from the chart below, that cohort’s ethical standards have gone from bad to worse in the past few years. The statistics come from a USA Weekend preview of a survey by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, based in Marina del Rey, Calif. If you’re hoping that America’s religious revival might stem the decline, the report has bad news on that front: Cheating on exams was almost as common among students who say religion is “very important” to them (with 69 percent confessing they’ve done it) as among the pagan respondents (73 percent). MIXED BLESSINGS: The Exemplary Bill Gates, Ludwig’s Road Show, Etc. Bill Gates may be the least favorite multi- billionaire of opinionated digerati. Among the public at large, though, his approval rating is even higher than Bill Clinton’s. A survey by U.S. News & World Report found 73 percent of respondents saying they have a favorable opinion of him. On the other hand, when respondents were asked to choose “the best role model for children” from a list of famous people, the Microsoft mogul polled just 8 percent of the vote, leaving him well behind Colin Powell (38 percent) and Oprah Winfrey (21 percent). But he did beat Madeline Albright (6 percent). Awright, Bill! If you’re Beethoven’s ghost, it’s probably a relief to see an ad that uses your face but does not say, “Roll over, Beethoven.” In any case, a campaign for an auto-body shop in Canton, Ohio, puts Ludwig in good company: Earlier ads have used Picasso and Rembrandt to exalt the client’s status as a practitioner of “The Fine Art of Collision Repair.” Innis Maggiore Group of Canton is the agency. “I love the smell of Play Doh in the morning,” announces a woman dressed in full battle gear. She’s about to enter a toy store–an experience, as any parent can tell you, that’s usually hellish. As the soundtrack plays The Ride of the Valkyries, the store erupts in mayhem: Adults fight over a stuffed animal; kids blast a woman with water guns; toys cascade from shelves, etc. A voiceover suggests that buying toys “needn’t be a battle” and touts eToys.com, an online store, as the sane alternative for noncombatants. Kalis & Savage of Los Angeles created the spot.fashion upkeep: Grooming the Consumers Of the New Millennium There’s a line Dolly Parton often uses in discussing her distinctive appearance: “It takes a lot of money to make me look this cheap.” In light of new data from Alden & Associates, you may feel the same goes for teenagers. A survey conducted by the Hermosa Beach, Calif.-based research firm among girls age 13-19 finds average spending of $217 per month on “fashion upkeep”–including clothes, cosmetics and health and beauty aids. Clothing accounts for most of the spending (71 percent), with cosmetics and HBAs splitting the rest almost evenly. Before you blame their indulgent parents for laying out all this money, note that the girls claim to foot 48 percent of these expenditures from their own funds–a figure that rises to 54 percent among the 16-19-year-olds. Wild And Crazy: Is There A Way To Put Them Back In The Box? Scary statistic of the week: 65 percent of 20somethings consider themselves “out-of-the-box.” The figure comes from a poll conducted for Mazda, which is promoting its Protege car through “a national search to find and honor America’s most OOTB individuals.” Yikes. The poll also asked 20somethings to pick the most out-of-the-box celebrities in several categories. Jim Carey and Drew Barrymore topped the voting for movie stars, while Courtney Love led the musicians. Dennis Rodman was rated the most OOTB male athlete, while Venus Williams was tops among female athletes. Jenna Elfman and Michael Richards were voted the most unboxed TV actors.