SOGGY NEW YEAR! Making The Most Of Our Millennial Anxiety Why obsess about some geeky computer bug when you can dread the millennium in more spectacular ways? In that respect, Americans have not lost their capacity to think big. For a nationwide poll by the Los Angeles Times, adults were asked whether they think “the beginning of the new millennium will bring a marked increase in floods, earthquakes or other natural disasters.” Nineteen percent of respondents thought such an outcome “somewhat likely” and another 7 percent believed it to be “very likely.” Don’t be too quick to dismiss 7 percent as a small number. In a country with roughly 200 million adults, that amounts to 14 million people. Meanwhile, many more regard “significant civil unrest” as a millennial likelihood, with 20 percent believing it’s “somewhat likely” and another 10 percent saying it’s “very likely.” And while some people are blithely laying in champagne for a big New Year’s Eve, 11 percent of the poll’s respondents say they or other family members are “stockpiling food, water or other supplies in greater amounts than normal because of concerns about the new millennium.” That number stacks up pretty well against the percentage of Americans who methodically save enough for retirement or who make sure to change the batteries in their smoke detectors. Apparently, the prospect of cosmic disaster engages us in a way that far more probable mishaps do not. That speaks poorly for human prudence, of course, but it reflects (however oddly) some vigor of human imagination. HIRE POWER: Man’s Best Benefit With unemployment at record lows, the balance of power has altered in the job market. A survey of human-resources executives, conducted for New York-based Fortune Personnel Consultants, reflects the shift. While 63 percent of respondents said money remains paramount to job candidates, 84 percent said the importance of “lifestyle benefits” has risen. And some of the benefits people request are rather unusual. Among those cited in the poll: “bring poodle to work,” “violin lessons for candidate’s child,” “pay for boarding of snake,” “vacation after two days working,” “office with skylight” and “horse relocation.” MIXED BLESSINGS: Great Mortality Rates, Well-Dressed Witches, Parents vs. Peers, Etc. DEATH BE NOT PROUD: Now, even insurance companies dare to make light of that juncture in human affairs when people stop paying their premiums for good. Copy in the Itech ad (via Jessen Productions of San Francisco) warns that the industry’s price war may soon end, which means that consumers need to “lock in low term-life rates today.” And if they don’t? They could “get stiffed by rising rates.” Life insurers used to go out of their way to avoid any implication that they expected you to die someday. Acknowledgment of that eventuality was made (if at all) in the most tactful way. An ad that laughs in the face of death (or, at least, in the feet of death) is a sign of how fragile the old cultural taboos are these days. Real brand extensions are often a drag, presuming far too much on our loyalty to the original product. Bogus brand extensions are more fun, and we find a nice one in a campaign for Utz potato chips. Given the sophomoric raunchiness to which jeans advertising is prone, there’d probably be a lucrative niche for a brand whose emblem is as wholesome as Utz’s potato-chip girl. MGH of Owings Mills, Md., created the billboard campaign. If consumers take away the impression that they can scarf down potato chips and still look alluring in tight jeans, so much the better for Utz. Speaking of wholesome, an online Harris/Excite poll addressed the pressing issue of whether schools should permit “peaceful expression of witchcraft and satanism through style of dress” in the interest of religious toleration. An anti-satanic majority (51 percent) said all “cult-like expression should be banned,” while 29 percent said schools “do not have the right to decide what constitutes ‘acceptable’ religious groups.” Another 20 percent weren’t entirely sure. We’ll just have to await judgment from the Supreme Court on whether a bedeviled student has a First Amendment right to be a fashion victim. People used to argue about whether kids are shaped mainly by nature or nurture. Recently, the terms of the argument have shifted, and people now debate whether parents or peers are the main formative influence on a kid. A survey conducted for Family Circle and the Kaiser Family Foundation sheds some light on the issue, at least as it relates to sex, drugs, alcohol and violence. Kids age 10-12 said their parents are “their primary source of advice and information” on these matters. Among the 13-15-year-olds, though, a majority cite their friends as their leading fonts of wisdom on such topics. As a rule, kids feel more comfortable talking about this stuff with their mothers than with their fathers. For instance, “Mom is the one more kids would turn to first if someone offered them drugs (38 percent for Mom versus 18 percent for Dad).” Ask a silly question–or, for that matter, a serious question–and you can usually count on 10 percent of respondents to give you a silly answer. An online poll by Jane magazine adhered to that rule when people were asked: Is springtime the best time for sex? While 70 percent of the poll’s participants said “yes” and 20 percent expressed year-round sexual enthusiasm, 10 percent insisted that “spring is all wrong.” There’s no youthful business like show business. A study by the League of American Theatres and Producers finds a sharp increase in the number of attendees 18 and younger at touring companies’ performances of Broadway shows–up from 163,000 in 1991 to 714,000 last year. At this rate, we’ll soon be hearing show tunes in commercials aimed at the MTV demographic. Maybe you won’t have enough money to retire in style. But you can take solace in the fact that Gumby and his pals will be living it up. Making the point that “Eventually everyone retires,” new ads for AGF mutual funds also show a retired Santa Claus fly-fishing and a retired Spiderman on the golf course. The Toronto outpost of Young & Rubicam created the campaign. PUMPED: Gauging The Effects Of Higher Gas Prices If OPEC’s cut in oil production sends U.S. gasoline prices up to $1.50 a gallon, will Americans drive less? A Gallup poll finds 54 percent of people believing prices will be higher a year from now, and another 11 percent expecting they’ll be “much” higher. Asked whether they’d drive less if the price went that high, 41 percent said they would. The “yes” vote was considerably lower, at 29 percent, among those with yearly income of $75,000 and up. Given the great importance Americans attach to driving, a sharp rise in gas prices could put a disproportionate dent in their sense of well-being–even if the amount of money involved isn’t all that much. TEEN FINANCE: Getting And Spending, Junior Division A penny earned is a penny not saved for long by many American teenagers. In a survey commissioned by Merrill Lynch, 12-17-year-olds were asked how much they save of the money they receive. While 26 percent said they save most of it (versus 28 percent in last year’s poll), 18 percent confessed to spending it immediately (up from 12 percent last year). A moderate majority (56 percent) said they save about half of the money they get. All in all, they sound no more profligate than their elders. How do they get hold of their money in the first place? As you can see from the chart, plenty of the kids work for it–if only sporadically. Among those who have a steady gig, 35 percent do “manual labor jobs” in agriculture or elsewhere, 28 percent have restaurant/food-service jobs and 12 percent do office work. Among those who salt away some of their income, 46 percent are saving for college and 36 percent aim to buy a car. As for their method of saving, 64 percent use a piggy bank or other such container, nearly equalling the number (70 percent) who have a savings account. 1 FOR YOU, 19 FOR ME: Declaring Their Opinions About the Income Tax Prejudices die hard, but the age-old antipathy toward mothers-in-law may have faded. At any rate, it appears to have been eclipsed by the antipathy toward politicians. In a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll, people were asked: “If you could choose one person to have audited by the IRS, who would it be: your mother-in-law, your boss or your congressman?” Just 3 percent opted for the mother-in-law, while 8 percent chose the boss. A landslide 68 percent would sic the feds on their congressman. That choice dovetails with responses to another question in the poll: “Do you believe politicians when they promise to lower tax rates?” A mere 9 percent said they do. The survey was summarized on the PollingReport.com Web site, which pulled together opinion data on taxes as the April 15 deadline drew near. One other tidbit: In an Associated Press poll, 59 percent of respondents said they were expecting a refund, while 26 percent said they’d have to pay more tax than had been withheld. SHOD: Where the Athletic Rubber Meets the Road If Americans seem less fleet of foot these days, there’s a reason. A report by The NPD Group says sales of athletic footwear fell 6 percent last year. The decline was particularly sharp, at 20 percent, during the third quarter, which includes back-to-school buying. Still, the industry managed to eke out a not-so-paltry $13.8 billion in retail sales, according to the Port Washington, N.Y.-based research firm. For those of you who prefer to count by feet rather than by dollars, the total was 325 million pairs of shoes. Despite its much-publicized troubles, Nike’s share of retail dollars (34 percent) exceeded the combined total of the other four companies in the top five. MATURE GUIDANCE: Saving Generation X From the Slacker Myth A few years ago, they were disaffected slackers. Now, they’re soulmates of the Private Ryan generation. Who could blame Gen Xers if they felt exhausted by this long march across the moral landscape? The slacker stereotype flourished briefly, even in the absence of much data to support it. Now, Yankelovich Partners says polling among Xers, Boomers and Matures (as it dubs Boomers’ elders) detects an affinity between the oldest and youngest of these groups. Indeed, it says the Matures “are poised to be a guiding force to Gen Xers as they enter family formation and strive to make ‘better’ choices than did their Boomer parents.” As the chart shows, Xers often embrace the traditionalist views Boomers rejected when they were young. Other Yankelovich polling finds similarities in Xers’ and Matures’ social views, as when 84 percent of the former and 88 percent of the latter agree that “Men have changed a lot, but women still main nurturers.” One moral the polling firm draws for advertisers: “Consider Matures as spokespeople to Gen Xers.” It’d be fun to see them try, certainly.