Mark Dolliver’s Takes

Inspiring ceos: In Which Sumner Redstone Is the Runner-Up to Mom
It’s said successful chief executives are so tough they would fire their own mothers. If that’s true, though, a survey commissioned by New York-based Doremus Advertising suggests they’d at least give Mom a generous severance package. After all, when 600 chief executive officers of major corporations were asked to name the “one person who inspired them the most,” a plurality (34 percent) cited their mothers. Among other choices, only Viacom’s Sumner Redstone (21 percent) and baseball’s Jackie Robinson (16 percent) scored in double digits. The corporate chieftains were so enthusiastic about mothers that they put Mother Teresa atop a separate list of religious figures who’ve inspired them–well ahead of God, by a margin of 21 percent to 16 percent. (In an unrelated Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll, Mother Teresa also won top honors as “Most Admired Person of the Century.”) At first glance, the outpouring of pro-mother votes appears to indicate the corporate chieftains are a sentimental lot. On the other hand, a put-upon underling might note that these bosses were most inspired by someone whose job it is to love them no matter what. And they’ve managed their careers in such a way that thousands of employees must now dote on them, much as their mothers used to do. It’s telling that fathers, traditionally seen more as authority figures than as givers of unconditional love, fared poorly in the poll. When respondents were asked to cite the family member who most inspired them, 64 percent picked their mothers and 11 percent chose their fathers. Even when picking among figures in the sports category, respondents preferred players like Jackie Robinson (45 percent) and Tiger Woods (22 percent) to authoritative coaches like Vince Lombardi (13 percent) and Pat Riley (1 percent).
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the unbelievers: True, False or Neither?
No doubt consumers believe advertising has many fine qualities. Truthfulness, alas, is not one of them. In a survey conducted for Adweek by research firm Alden & Associates of Hermosa Beach, Calif., people were asked, “Do you think advertising generally tells the truth?” A huge majority (80.8 percent) of respondents said “no”–and not, we fear, because they believe advertising invariably tells the truth. Women were more likely than men to be naysayers, by 82.7 percent to 78.4 percent. In the face of such skepticism, some advertisers will redouble their efforts to seem truthful. Others may decide believability is such a lost cause that they should focus their messages in more promising directions. Indeed, more and more advertising features an off-the-wall brashness that makes any question of truth or falsehood seem quite beside the point.
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class of 2000: Yes, Growing Up Is Hard, But It’s Also Survivable
It takes more than death to squelch teens’ innate optimism. In a CBS News survey of high school seniors, 73 percent of the respondents said someone close to them has died. Forty percent said they’ve gone through a “serious crisis or disaster,” and 26 percent have endured a “serious health problem.” Twenty-two percent have had to cope with their parents’ divorce–a figure that would be even higher if more kids had two parents in the first place.
Despite all these difficulties, 60 percent think their own lives will be better than their parents’, while just 5 percent expect a worse outcome. And while the kids have anxieties about their financial prospects, as the chart below indicates, a landslide 89 percent believe “it is still possible to start out poor in this country, work hard, and become rich.” A majority of those surveyed have already had a stint in the labor force, with 71 percent holding “at least a part-time job.”
The survey also inquired into the sexual attitudes of the high school seniors. It found them more abstemious than pop culture’s depiction of teens would suggest. Though 60 percent deemed premarital sex permissible, 62 percent said “kids their age are too young to be having sex.” Be that as it may, 42 percent of the boys and 43 percent of the girls have had sex.
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getting to work: It May Not Be Half the Fun, But It Isn’t Half Bad, Either
True or false: Commuting to and from work is one of life’s great ordeals. A survey conducted late last year by ABCNews.com suggests the answer is “false,” more often than not. Notwithstanding the notion that urban-plus-suburban sprawl has consigned the American worker to a life of traffic jams between home and job, the study finds that the average commute takes all of 22 minutes–one minute longer than it did in 1989. In fact, 47 percent of working Americans have a commute of 15 minutes or less. A mere 16 percent spend more than half an hour getting to or from work, down from 18 percent in the 1989 research. So, why is the image of the grueling commute so fixed in popular lore? Perhaps because it’s more of a reality for the people who run things in this country. Commutes that consume more than half an hour are nearly twice as common among Americans making $75,000 a year as they are among workers making less than that amount. Still, just 29 percent of the upper-income cohort must suffer a trip in excess of 30 minutes in each direction.
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plane choice: Sorting the Popular Moguls From the Unpopular
Who’d you rather have as seatmate on a cross-country flight–Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey? Among the college-educated careerists given this choice in a new Fast Company/Roper Starch poll, the Microsoft mogul won 58.1 percent of the vote. (Some might feel it would serve both Gates and Winfrey right if they had to sit next to each other on a cross-country flight.) Given a choice of sitting next to Bill Clinton or Jack Welch, a large minority (40.5 percent) would prefer the leader of General Electric to the leader of the free world. IBM’s Lou Gerstner made a respectable showing (40.6 percent) when paired against Michael Jordan as potential inflight neighbor. As you can see from the chart, Gates was the respondents’ boss of choice. He suffers a gender gap, though, polling better among men (36 percent) than women (26 percent). While Disney chief Michael Eisner was the runner-up on the wanna-work-for list, he also got the most votes when respondents were asked which mega-boss they’d least like to sit with on a cross-country flight. Among other info-tidbits from the survey: 2.3 percent of respondents claimed they’ve “made a lot of money from the Net,” and the same percentage confessed they’ve lost money on the Net.
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mixed blessings: Creative Suggestions, The Ins and Outs of 2000, Saving Your Soul, Etc.
If men are indeed from Mars, that planet is wimpier than we’d supposed. Asked in a GQ-commissioned poll to choose between “wealth, fame and power” and “health, tranquility and peace of mind,” 76 percent of men opted for the latter.
Since agency creative types are free of ego, it’s tough to interest them in the prospect of winning award-show trophies. They regard work as its own reward, you see. But what if the trophies lent themselves to creative use by those who own enough of them? A call for entries from the Art Directors Club in New York explores that notion. For someone who has three of the cube-shaped trophies, they can be stacked to form a model of a “Tall-Boy Beer Can.” A somewhat larger number can be used to replicate the contours of a “Distributor Cap, ’73 Chevy Impala.” Creatives of a zoological bent can create animal forms, as shown above. Other trophy sculptures on the entry form include a map of Texas, a “Sad Clown” and a set of Jell-O molds. Credit for the effort is shared by a team including the Duffy Design studio in New York, design director Neil Powell, designer Alan Leusink, writer William Gelner and illustrator Dan Bowman.

If you consider the assassination of President McKinley the crime of the century, you’re not alone. Conducted for the APBnews.com Web site, a Zogby International survey asked respondents to pick (from a list of 10 choices) the one crime that “had the greatest impact on American society in the past 100 years.” The 1963 assassination of John Kennedy drew the most votes (36.5 percent), followed by the Oklahoma City bombing (24 percent), the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. (11.2 percent) and the O.J Simpson case (9.7 percent). But the 1901 murder of William McKinley was not altogether lost to memory, drawing 0.6 percent of the tally. Granted, that’s a tiny percentage. But in a nation of roughly 200 million adults, it still translates to more than 1 million people. Without belittling poor McKinley, one can draw the moral that on any given issue, thousands or even millions of people hold views that would startle the rest of us. More generally, one can’t look at polls week after week without being struck by people’s readiness to offer opinions on almost anything. To cite one recent example, 65 percent of participants in an online poll by The Christian Science Monitor took the time to register their opinion that life has at some time existed on Mars. Maybe they’re right, but who on Earth would know? And why do they feel the need to express this view? I wouldn’t dare even hazard a guess.

Get rid of the baggy cargo pants–especially if you work at Young & Rubicam. In a listing of what’s in and what’s out for 2000, Y&R’s Brand Futures Group has classified the too-roomy pants among passƒ fashions. The same fate has befallen “unisex looks” and “stark minimalism.” The “in” fashions include fitted shapes, bright colors and “tech assimilation.” On the edible front, bioengineered foods are declared “on the way out” before they even got very far in. Also fading, according to the agency, are packaged and processed foods, while organics and other “real” foods are on the upswing. Cruises are “absolutely out,” although “restful respites” are “definitely in.” And if you haven’t been to a rave yet, better hurry: They’re “fading fast,” along with discos and lavish parties. Live music, home entertainment and “playing Frisbee” will take up the recreational slack.

Honors this week for Best Performance by an Anthropomorphic Egg go to a campaign for Egg Beaters. Not since Humpty Dumpty lost his balance has an egg looked so pitiful. Copy in the ad (from Cramer-Krasselt of Milwaukee) makes a nicely dismissive reference to “ordinary shell eggs,” as if any self-respecting egg would have ditched its shell ages ago.

Sent a mere 40 Christmas cards last month? Then you lagged behind your compatriots. As summarized on the WorldOpinion Web site, a holiday poll by Maritz Marketing Research found U.S. adults planning to send 41 cards apiece, on average. The findings support the supposition that women are more sociable than men: 72 percent of the former planned to send out cards, versus 60 percent of the latter. Women are also more likely than men to say they donate to charities during the holidays (80 percent versus 75 percent).

A final note on the holiday cards that agencies dutifully sent to the Takes section: We are pleased to report that just one of them arrived “Postage Due.” The card wished us not merely a happy new year but a “Prosperous New Millennium.” As such, the agency (whose name we’ll suppress, in the spirit of holiday goodwill) must have figured we could cover the 22-cent deficit.

It’s a target market for our times: people who might be willing to sell their souls but would just as soon not. An ad for inc.com, which provides information and services to small businesses, will strike a rapport with such people. After all, why traffic with Satan when you can profit just as easily by dealing with an Internet company? As the ad’s deadpan copy says, “Business success shouldn’t take drastic measures.” For would-be tycoons whose interests are less theological, another ad in the series poses the question: “Want to be a millionaire without appearing on TV?” The clever campaign was created by Allen & Gerritsen of Watertown, Mass.

Speaking of souls, a new study gives cause to wonder whether the much-discussed religious awakening of recent years is more talk than action. Tracking attendance at Protestant church services, Barna Research Group of Ventura, Calif., found a 12 percent decline between 1992 and 1999. If there really was a surge of spirituality in the ’90s, this bit of data indicates that it didn’t necessarily take the form of conventional (and weekly) religious commitment.