mark dolliver’s takes

flameouts, please: From ‘New and Improved’ to ‘Old Economy’
In the bygone 20th century, marketers distinguished between premium brands and less-than-premium brands. In the days following Procter & Gamble’s humiliation on Wall Street, some must wonder whether that distinction has been eclipsed by the dualism of “old-economy companies” versus “new-economy companies.” Where did the old-economy contingent go wrong? Maybe its mistake lay in letting investors grow accustomed to seeing it make big profits. New-economy companies have prudently avoided that pitfall by making no profits whatsoever. Many of them make no products, either, and everyone knows products can muddy a brand image. As it happens, there’s a rough justice in the way consumer-goods giants have been branded as has-beens. For years, they’ve boasted of “new and improved” products that consumers find utterly unnew and unimproved. (A survey conducted for Adweek several years ago found 78 percent of respondents saying they disbelieve the “new and improved” claim when they see it in ads.) Such puffery was just persuasive enough to convince people that new is better than old, a mentality that now works to the disadvantage of the old-economy standbys. The question still to be answered is whether Wall Street’s disdain for the old will rub off on Main Street. We can assume that consumers will continue to buy soap, irrespective of soap makers’ share prices. But will they be as willing as they now are to pay a premium for well-known brands rather than pick up the store brand? In that regard, investor opinion does add something to the stew of public opinion–especially at a time when the prestige of the stock markets themselves is so high. What’s needed are a few spectacular flameouts by new-economy companies to cast a more flattering light on their corporate elders.

cul-de-sac chic: Suburbia in Vogue? It’s True
A few months ago, we noted in this space that suburbia had outgrown the white-bread stereotype routinely applied to it in popular culture. Image simply needed to catch up with reality. We can now report a startling step in that direction. A multi-page fashion portfolio in Vogue (photographed by Steven Meisel, no less) says, “The suburban lady is spring’s saucy muse.” Did you think you’d live to see “suburban” and “saucy” in the same sentence? A Versace dress is said to typify “the ‘Connecticut cul-de-sac’ look.” And don’t be fooled into thinking the comely suburbanite who wears it is fully absorbed by thoughts of her next Tupperware party. “Behind a respectable front simmers a sultry soul.” In another spread, “Junior League prints” contribute to a look that’s praised as “scandalously chic.” Granted, Vogue merely exchanges one suburban clichƒ for another. But at least the new one has some pizzazz.

the vision thing: Ready for Laser Surgery–But Not Quite Yet, Thanks
This just in on optical politics: 75 percent of conservatives wear corrective lenses, versus 65 percent of liberals. That’s one info-tidbit from a new Gallup poll on the demographics of eyeglass use and attitudes toward laser eye surgery. Do you tend to regard bespectacled folk as an intellectual bunch? In fact, the poll found a positive correlation between eyeglasses and levels of education. Among Americans with postgraduate degrees, 82 percent use corrective lenses; among those with a high school education or less, 68 percent do so. In all, 70 percent of adults wear some sort of lenses. That total includes 9 percent who mainly wear contacts and 4 percent who wear glasses and contacts about equally. Among those who use corrective lenses, 11 percent said they “might consider”
having laser surgery in the next year or two. Another 32 percent might have such surgery “at some point in the future,” but not in the next two years. Still, a majority (53 percent) “would not consider having it done at all.” People who wear contacts were more open to surgery than those who wear glasses, with just 35 percent of the former group ruling it out entirely.

but jobs matter: Free Trade Isn’t the Curse Of the Working Classes
Among upper-income types, a globalist perspective is standard equipment.
Conventional wisdom says the proletariat, by contrast, remains trapped in a narrower point of view, fearful of the threats posed by international competition. But polling by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press casts doubt on that clichƒ, at least as it concerns the issue of trade. It’s true that respondents with household income topping $50,000 were more likely than others to say free trade is good for the U.S., with 76 percent of that cohort saying so. But a majority (53 percent) of those with household income under $20,000 felt the same way. Likewise, 65 percent of those in households with a union member favored free trade–a shade higher than the 64 percent among Americans in general. There were differences along class lines, though, when respondents were asked which factors should get most emphasis in formulating trade policy. Among college graduates, 38 percent assigned top priority to maintaining economic growth, versus 25 percent stressing preservation of jobs in the U.S. Among those with a high school education, 44 percent stressed jobs above all else, while 29 percent believed economic growth should be the paramount factor. The survey’s young respondents were markedly more likely than their elders to say environmental considerations should get high priority in trade policy. One in four of those under age 30 rated it as the most important factor, while half as many in the 30-49 bracket gave it that status. For women under 30, the environment even scored higher than economic growth.

mixed blessings: Taking Plenty of Credit, Fishing for Customers, Etc.
Apparently, it’ll take more than the greatest boom in economic history to end Americans’ reliance on credit-card debt. A study by Greenfield Online finds most consumers pay at least the minimum amount due each month on their credit cards. But just four in 10 pay the full tab. Let us salute the remaining six in 10 for shouldering high interest payments as they keep the economy humming. We owe them a debt we can never repay–and won’t even try.

Honors this week for Best Casual Allusion to Endoplasmic Reticulum go to a campaign for MedCareers, a job-placement Web site for healthcare professionals. Another ad in the series (by Huey/Paprocki of Atlanta) tells of “More opportunities than streptococcus in a room full of 5-year-olds.”

With gasoline prices topping $2 per gallon in some locales, will new-car buyers insist on models that get good mileage? Not all of them. An online poll by The Christian Science Monitor asked consumers to rate the importance of gas mileage in such a purchase. A thrifty 21 percent said it’s the “most important factor,” while 6 percent said it’s “not an important factor.” The other 73 percent judged it to be just “one of many factors.”

If you think working women have lost stature in the past 10 years, there’s a factual basis for that opinion. But it has nothing to do with their professional status. Rather, a statistic passed along by Health magazine says 21 percent of women now wear high heels to work, versus 37 percent in 1990.

Which is more appetizing: a photographed fish or an illustrated fish? Taking no chances, an ad for a seaside restaurant named Pooch’s caters to either taste. The sketch is an effective visual
setup for the campaign’s motto, “Get Hooked.”
Creative Marketing, based in Northbrook, Ill., created the ad for Noble House Hotels & Resorts.

Lest you imagine mouse-clicking is the only exercise in which Internet users indulge, Jupiter Communications points to a more active cohort. A study by the research firm predicts online sports commerce–including sales of sporting goods, apparel, footwear and event tickets–will reach $3 billion in 2003. Tickets are expected to account for one-third of that total. Sports content is already one of the biggest draws for Internet enthusiasts, notes Jupiter, thus paving the virtual way for a boom in sports commerce.

all hail dot-coms: Adding Up Adweek’s Classified Ads for Jobs
It’s been a good millennium, so far, for jobs in advertising, marketing and media, judging from the volume of help-wanted classifieds in Adweek. The strong January linage has been followed by the best February in the long and glorious history of our magazine’s classifieds. The West is again the star, as has often been the case in recent years. (But that region got off to a poor start in 1999, so the current gains come off a so-so base). Also in line with recent experience, demand was particularly high last month for people to fill dot-com jobs.

cosmetic changes: Profiting From the Vanity Of All Sorts of Americans
Beauty may be only skin deep, but that doesn’t stop consumers from spending tons of money to achieve it. And increasing amounts of that cash are going to brands that cater to ethnic markets. A study by Kalorama Information finds retail sales of ethnic haircare, cosmetics and skincare products approaching $1.6 billion last year, boosted by steady gains through the late ’90s. Brands aimed at African American consumers accounted for 90 percent of that total. But the research firm estimates that 10 percent of Hispanic women use black-oriented cosmetics, given a relative dearth of products aimed specifically at them. (Sounds like an opportunity for someone, eh?) Meanwhile, the study sees brisk growth in HBA goods aimed at Asian Americans. More broadly, it notes a shift toward ethnic products that include herbs and natural plant extracts