Lagging Consumers, The Angst of Acne, Etc.

Consumer confidence is supposed to be a leading indicator of the economy’s direction. Right now, though, it looks more like a lagging indicator, with consumer-confidence indices staying flat even as many other bits of data show incipient signs of a recovery. What gives? Economists point to the weakness of the labor market as a restraint on consumer confidence, as well they should. But it also seems likely that a recent run-up in gasoline prices has dampened consumers’ spirits. As we’ve noted in the past, Americans often react more strongly to gas-price increases than the actual money at stake seems to warrant. In the latest ABCNews/Money consumer-confidence report, the network’s analysis speaks of confidence “holding tough in the face of rapidly rising gasoline prices.” If and when gas prices fall back, it could have an outsized effect on consumers’ attitudes. On that score, the University of Michigan’s polling finds consumers expect the gas-price rises to be “temporary.”

If they don’t start wearing Fila gear, illustrators and photographers are a bunch of ingrates. How often, after all, does a single ad offer gainful employment to people in both of those professions? The brand gets its money’s worth with a campaign whose visual style distinguishes it from the all-too-ample competition. Merkley Newman Harty & Partners of New York created the ad.

gender gaps in the use of technology won’t vanish anytime soon, to judge from a survey of kids age 8-17 by Child’s Play Communications and Insight Research Group. They’re evident, after all, in the way young consumers use young technologies. Girls are more likely than boys to say they use cell phones (27 percent vs. 19 percent), e-mail (57 percent vs. 47 percent) and instant messaging (65 percent vs. 56 percent). Boys are more likely than girls to use videogame equipment (87 percent vs. 62 percent) and portable videogames (58 percent vs. 42 percent).

What if people were too lazy to get fat? A report from The NPD Group prompts us to consider this possibility as it notes a decline in at-home consumption of desserts. “The percent of in-home dinner meals that include dessert declined seven percentage points from 1990 to 2002, when only 14 percent of suppers included a dessert item,” says the research firm. It’s not that consumers are eschewing dessert for reasons of health; they’re simply less willing to take the time and trouble to make dessert. When desserts are eaten at home, nearly half are ready-made items. Consumers age 65 and older are more likely than younger adults to top off their dinners with dessert: 33 percent of the old folks do so, vs. 5 percent of those under 25.

Teen angst may have evolved in other respects, but worries about acne are a constant. In an online poll of teens by AMP Insights, 55 percent of girls and 51 percent of boys said they’d been turned down for a date because of their acne. Teen girls take their skin more to heart, with 42 percent saying their self-esteem has declined due to acne, vs. one-fourth of the boys. Similarly, 33 percent of girls often compare their acne problems to those of their peers, vs. 24 percent of boys.

Going to work can be a thankless task. At least, it is for many of the workers responding to a Maritz Poll. Asked how often they’re thanked by their supervisors for a job well done, 26 percent said “seldom or never.” Twenty-nine percent said they receive “occasional” thanks from their supervisors, while 35 percent said they’re thanked “frequently.” The supervisors themselves see matters differently. Seventy-one percent said they dole out praise to their underlings at least weekly; just 7 percent said they never praise the workers who report to them.

No category is so lacking in chic that its ads must be frumpy. We’re reminded of this by a campaign for Blis, which bills itself as a “safe, discreet and comfortable alternative to nursing pads.” The subject of the ads is breast-milk leakage among the target audience of nursing mothers. Not very glamorous stuff, eh? Nonetheless, with its chic visuals, the ads assure these women that their maternal role doesn’t mean they’ve been banished forever from the stylish-adult world. Clarke Goward of Boston created the series.

As students reconcile themselves to another year of teachers’ dirty looks, the Census Bureau has marked the occasion by issuing a fact sheet of school-related statistics. Among the highlights: 20 percent of students in grades 1-12 have at least one foreign-born parent, and 9.8 million school-age kids speak a language other than English at home. Girls are more likely than boys to be “academically on track for their age” (79 percent vs. 69 percent). As for higher education, 8.2 million Americans age 25 and over are enrolled in college, accounting for about half of the total college-student population.

We can say of fickle teenagers what one of Shakespeare’s characters says of women: “… even to vice they are not constant.” According to the new edition of the federal government’s annual report, America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, smoking, drinking and doping are all in decline among schoolkids. Incidence of daily cigarette usage in 2002 fell to 5 percent among 8th graders, 10 percent among 10th graders and 17 percent among 12th graders, the lowest levels since these reports were initiated in the mid-1990s. The proportion of 8th and 12th graders using drugs held steady in 2002 (at one-tenth and one-quarter, respectively), but fell from 23 percent to 21 percent among 10th graders. As for “episodic heavy drinking,” the number of 10th graders indulging in it fell from 25 percent to 22 percent; there was no change among 8th graders (12 percent) and 12th graders (29 percent). Perhaps some kids are too busy doing homework for their honors classes to have time for vice. The report says the percentage of high schoolers taking advanced classes in various subjects “has increased significantly since 1982.”