Love That Bug: Stop The Millennium, I Want To Get Off When we get to Jan. 1, 2000, computer problems may create ghastly chaos. In the meantime, though, we should acknowledge that the “Y2K Bug” is loads of fun for many people. Breaking free of the humdrum of modern life, some are preparing to stockpile food (as 13 percent of respondents to a CNN Online poll said they’ll do). Others are digging into the library growing up around Y2K, ranging from business-oriented tomes to adventurous titles like How to Survive Y2K Chaos in the City, Survival Bartering and How to Live Without Electricity–And Like It. Still others are composing jokes to enter in a “Great Y2K Humor Contest” run by a Web site devoted to Y2K issues. For the money-minded, there are stocks billed as good Y2K plays. You can even amuse yourself by disparaging the Y2K opinions of others, as yet another Web site does. (The message crawling across the bottom of the www.Duh-2000.com homepage at press time last week: “Only 414 more days to say something stupid about the Year 2000.”) In short, Y2K has become the best hobby since whittling, lending excitement and meaning to the lives of its enthusiasts. But what if nothing drastic happens when the big day arrives? That’s the scary eventuality for which no planning has taken place. We must begin to prepare for the chance that untold numbers of people will be sorely disappointed, experiencing a letdown so profound that it can come just once every thousand years. I’m Busy, Dear: The Widow Lives Who would you guess watches more sports on TV–a man whose wife is not a fan or a man whose wife shares his interest? If you picked the latter, that answer probably speaks better for the state of your own marriage than for your understanding of people. In a study by Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Goldhaber Research and Associates, avid sports fans whose wives are also fans said they watch 7.7 hours per week of TV sports. By contrast, men whose wives are not fans watch 10.6 hours per week. One is driven to the sorry but unsurprising conclusion that husbands watch sports in order to ignore their wives. As the magazine states the matter, “the football widow phenomenon is alive and well.” How Dare They? Boys Will Be Boys, Girls Will Be Girls Here’s more evidence that kids are incorrigible: Despite the best efforts of post-patriarchal parents and educators to get boys and girls interested in the same things, the genders persist in playing to stereotype. Roper Starch polling finds, for instance, that boys age 6-17 are more than half again as likely as girls (64 percent versus 40 percent) to say that playing sports is one of their favorite activities. Boys are also far more likely to be interested in building things, though the gap shrinks as the kids get into their teen years. Girls are more likely than boys to enjoy “using my imagination to create things” (a gender gap of 10 percentage points) and to try “new things I didn’t know how to do before, like playing an instrument, woodworking or arts and crafts” (a gap of 7 points). Overall, kids say “hanging out, playing with my friends” is their top free-time activity, with 58 percent citing it. The runner-up is “playing sports and doing outdoor things” (53 percent), followed by “doing things in my room, like watching videos, playing video games or talking on the phone” (29 percent). Be Prepared: Treating Supermarkets As Takeout Restaurants Why slave over a hot stove when you can dash into a cool supermarket? A joint study by Prevention magazine and the Food Marketing Institute finds 73 percent of consumers have bought such prepared foods as deli salads and precooked entrees from supermarkets. People who are employed are more likely than homebodies to avail themselves of this option, but the gap isn’t as large as you might guess: 80 percent of part-time workers, 76 percent of full-time workers and 68 percent of those not in the paid workforce say they buy prepared foods. For many consumers, precooked supermarket fare is an alternative to takeout from fast-food restaurants, and 69 percent of the survey’s respondents view prepared foods as a healthier choice. Mixed Blessings: Ready For Countdown, A Ticket To Heaven, An Ad With Brains, Etc. Inspired by John Glenn’s latest escapade in space, are other Americans eager to soar aloft? A high percentage of them are–at least among those who’ve already launched themselves into cyberspace. Asked in an online poll by USA Weekend whether they’d like to take a trip into space, 73 percent said they would versus 23 percent preferring to keep their feet on terra firma. It’s a familiar complaint among defenders of traditional journalism: News outlets have succumbed to the tawdry values of entertainment. The unspoken subtext of this lament is that the unwashed masses should be interested in unadulterated news of the most serious sort–whether they are or not. Rather than deny it’s playing to viewers’ yen for drama, a TV station in the Los Angeles market is explicitly marketing its news in that way–as a “big show” populated with colorful “characters.” Other ads in the campaign for UPN News 13 on KCOP spotlight “the marshal in town” (the Los Angeles police chief) and “the embattled leader” (Bill Clinton). This method of marketing the news will horrify the high-minded souls who inhabit endowed chairs at journalism schools. Yet, it’s hard to deny that more people are engaged by exciting narrative than by civic issues and world events. For many, the choice isn’t between a jazzed-up newscast and a serious one; it’s between a newscast of any calibre and reruns of a sitcom. If entertainment-themed ads can lure viewers to the news, more power to them. Colby Effler & Partners of Santa Monica, Calif., created the series. Honors this week for Most Ambitious Ad Claim go to a piece that promises entrƒe to heaven. Tough to beat that, eh? The client is a charity in Tulsa, Okla., that raises funds for family services and scholarships by selling the Care Card at $50 a pop. The card then entitles its bearers to discounts from participating merchants in town. Another headline in the ad campaign characterizes one’s purchase of the card as “a not so random act of kindness.” And copy in one ad congratulates the card’s purchaser on having become “a card-carrying giver to society.” Littlefield Marketing and Advertising of Tulsa is the agency. If I only had a brain–or, better still, a pair of brains. Consumers who love a bargain might nonetheless be leery of a college whose claim to fame is cut-rate tuition. So, an ad for Florida’s Valencia Community College assures readers that they’ll be certifying themselves as smart if they take advantage of the school’s low price. “Throw in guaranteed admission into a state university and you’ve got a lot of brains for the buck.” And they’ve got the photo to prove it. Fry Hammond Barr of Orlando created the ad. An antitrust suit isn’t exactly the sort of thing to burnish a corporate image. But a Newsweek poll suggests the feds’ case against Microsoft has limited resonance with the general public, at least so far. While 17 percent of respondents said they have a “less favorable” impression of Microsoft’s business practices due to what they’ve heard of the trial, 10 percent now hold a more favorable impression of the company. By comparison, 19 percent take a dimmer view of the government, based on what they’ve heard of the trial, while 13 percent think more highly of the feds. As for Bill Gates, 14 percent have a less favorable view of the software mogul due to the trial, but 12 percent think even more highly of him, memory lapses and all. Do consumers respond to ads that berate them for being hopelessly unhip? Perhaps not. But they do respond to ads that berate other people for being hopelessly unhip. Thus, a campaign in Canada for Showcase TV should appeal to readers who pride themselves on their cinematic literacy but have yet to sign up for the movie channel. Invoking other names from hipster cinema, ads in the series (via Harrod & Mirlin/FCB in Toronto) also mock the dullards who think “Binoche is a powerful new mouthwash,” “Keitel is a cheesy record label” and “Cronenberg is a trendy German beer.” Surf Bored? Tracking ‘core Activities’ Of The Wired Set As other research has done, polling by Yankelovich (summarized in the chart) confirms the preeminent popularity of e-mail among people who go online. In other words, faced with a technology that puts the whole wide world at their fingertips, people are most apt to use it as a kind of glorified telephone for exchanging pleasantries with their pals. And who can blame them? It’s always fun to chat with one’s friends, whereas more ambitious uses of the Internet are decidedly hit-and-miss. The wired world’s use of the verb “surf” reflects that, since it invokes a sport whose brief bursts of excitement coexist with long spells of tedium. While schoolchildren are broadening their educational horizons via the Web, perhaps the most useful thing they learn from it is patience. There are, of course, practical uses of the Internet. But Yankelovich finds people are still cautious about putting their money where their modems are. When it comes to “transaction-related activities,” people “definitely put more emphasis on ‘related’ and much less on actual ‘transactions,’ as security concerns still make many consumers wary of online purchasing.” Indeed, just 14 percent of respondents say they use the Internet to buy things and 11 percent say they do banking via the Web. Is this strictly a matter of fear about credit cards and passwords or does it reflect a deeper aversion? Note that just 23 percent of online consumers say they use the Internet to access stock quotes, and that’s an activity that shouldn’t prompt any security concerns. Hurry: Joining The PC Boom Before It Fades Away If your agency doesn’t have a personal-computer account, it should get one and cash in fast. The PC market is poised to boom as never before in 1999–and then to stall in 2000. That’s the forecast, anyway, of Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research. The firm predicts “a surge in corporate purchases” next year as companies ditch old machines “that could cause year 2000 problems.” Having gone on a buying spree, though, companies will back off in 2000, “ending 17 years of industry growth.” Forrester sees the lull persisting through 2002. Women At Work: Call It Equal-Opportunity Disillusionment Turns out the grass isn’t greener on the other side. When women were excluded from career paths, the exclusion left them to suppose they were missing all the fun. In the past couple of decades, though, they’ve had a chance to discover that the rat race isn’t such a treat after all. A study called Update:Women, summarized in USA Weekend, quantifies the decline in women’s careerist enthusiasm. In 1979, 36 percent of working women agreed with the statement, “To me, a career is as important as being a wife and mother.” In this year’s polling, the figure had fallen to 26 percent. The number saying their “goals in life are quite ambitious” dropped from 36 percent then to 26 percent now. Do women feel the world at large will value them less if they step back from careers and spend more time with their kids? If it does, they don’t care. The number who are “concerned about what others think about me” has tumbled from 45 percent to 24 percent. Hear Spot Run: Letting Radio Cheapskates Hear A Little Static To you, transportation is something that gets you from Point A to Point B. To radio-station owners, though, it’s an “underachiever.” A report by New York-based Interep identifies business sectors that allot higher-than-average shares of their budgets to radio and those that spend disproportionately little. Using data from Competitive Media Reporting, the report identifies the business/technology category as the top radio enthusiast, devoting half again as much of its spending to national spot and network radio as do advertisers in general. Other “overachievers” are food/beverages and retail/direct response. Among radio’s laggards: transportation (including automotive), drugs/toiletries, home/building and apparel/accessories.