Mark Dolliver’s Takes

Across that Bridge
Packing and Discarding for the New Century
Think of the transition to the 21st century as if we were all moving to a new house. What should we take with us, and what should we leave behind? A Yankelovich Partners poll got at the issue by asking people to say which things they would “like to see continued into the 21st century” and which they would rather do without. Atop the list of items to keep were newspapers, of all things, cited by 93 percent of respondents. Mind you, it’s been a long time since anything like 9 in 10 people actually read a daily paper. But the idea of the newspaper-something familiar that tells us what’s new-retains its appeal. Second place in the voting went to Oreos. One might consider that a tribute to the power of inoffensiveness. Few would argue that Oreos are the most delectable treats, but scarcely anyone dislikes them. Also welcome to cross the bridge to the 21st century are shopping malls and 24-hour convenience stores (each endorsed by 85 percent of the survey’s respondents), which makes you wonder how much mileage there is in political attacks on suburban “sprawl.” And while people enjoy complaining about answering machines, 82 percent would admit them into the new century. That puts them a bit ahead of ATMs (78 percent), the Internet (77 percent) and cellular phones (76 percent). Prozac (55 percent) and Viagra (53 percent) made the cut, but by narrower margins. At the opposite end of the spectrum, telemarketing finished in a tie (at 73 percent) with cloning and Jerry Springer when respondents picked the phenomena they’d just as soon leave behind. One can infer from these findings that people will be especially displeased if Jerry Springer has himself cloned.
Men vs. Women
Yes, Dear, You’re Right!
Much has changed during the past several decades in the relative status of men and women. But have women taken the upper hand? Not in the opinion of respondents to a poll conducted for Adweek by marketing research firm Alden & Associates of Hermosa Beach, Calif. People were asked, “In general, who do you think has a harder time in today’s society-men or women?” As you’d expect, most female respondents (81.2 percent) said women have a harder time. More surprising is that a majority of men (71.3 percent) gave the same response. That latter number is the one reflecting the societal shift that’s taken place. Men may have mixed feelings about ceding power to women, but they no longer delude themselves that the gals are lounging around eating bonbons while their husbands work themselves to death. Or, at the very least, they’ve become sufficiently discreet to conceal that thought.
the hoarding horde
Reducing the Millennium To a Shopping Opportunity
The next few weeks could present a rare opportunity for some second-tier brands. Here’s the scenario: Worried about Y2K, consumers clean out stores’ stocks of daily necessities. Latecomers must settle for brands they wouldn’t usually buy, giving high levels of trial to such also-rans. And who knows? People might like these goods better than the ones they’d been buying.
A study by Information Resources Inc., summarized on the WorldOpinion Web site, indicates the categories most likely to be picked over. In all, it found 40 percent of households planning to stock up on something or other. Among this cohort, three-quarters “intend to buy at least a month’s supply of products like canned food, bottled water, batteries and toilet tissue.” Snack foods were cited by more households than first-aid supplies or prescription drugs, indicating the degree to which noshables are necessities. There likely are gaps in individuals’ shopping lists. For example, some of the 70 percent planning to buy
candles may end up cursing the darkness, since 62 percent plan to buy matches.
Meanwhile, the millennium should bring a new era of fiscal acumen as people who haven’t balanced a checkbook in years comb through their bank statements for Y2K errors. Though various polls have detected a general decline in Y2K fears, Yankelovich found a marginal rise between August and November in the number of Americans saying they’ll “keep copies of all checks and receipts” (from 73 percent to 75 percent). And there was just a slight dip in the number intending to “examine bank and credit card statements more closely” (from 64 percent to 61 percent).
Economists will have their hands full decoding retail sales data. Fourth-quarter 1999 figures are apt to be artificially high, due to Y2K hoarding. And first-quarter 2000 figures are likely to be low in some sectors as people use up the inventory they bought before the new year arrived. Let’s hope the number crunchers have socked away lots of yellow legal pads.
fat cities
Mapping the “Blubber Belt’
Seeking a test market for fat-free tofu chips? Forget about Philadelphia. It ranked atop a list of “the fattest cities in America” as compiled by Men’s Fitness. Kansas City, Mo., was the runner-up (or waddler-up, as the case may be). Houston, Indianapolis and New Orleans filled out the top five. The “blubber belt” roster was based on such indices as rates of obesity, number of junk-food joints per capita, alcohol intake and percentage of adults who exercise. At the opposite end of the scale, the magazine dubbed San Diego the nation’s fittest city.
present danger
In Case You Imagined It’s The Thought That Counts
A specter is haunting holiday shoppers-the specter of rejected gifts. In a Roper Starch poll for, people were asked how often the gifts they give to a spouse or significant other are returned. Among male respondents, 18 percent said presents they give are taken back to the store at least “some of the time,” including 3 percent who said they’re spurned “most of the time.” Women were better shoppers, with just 12 percent saying gifts they give end up being returned. As for clandestine returns, 11 percent of the men fear their wives/girlfriends have secretly returned a gift from them. A mere 3 percent of women suspect the same about their menfolk. And men are right to feel more apprehensive on this score. Asked whether they’ve returned a present without telling the husband/
boyfriend who gave it, 11 percent of women confessed to having done so. Five percent of men owned up to being covert returners.
Men may draw consolation from the fact that women feel worse than they do about rejecting a gift. Among respondents who’ve taken a present back to the store, 37 percent of the women usually feel “guilty” about doing so, versus 24 percent of the male returners. In the “go figure” category, 8 percent of women and 10 percent of men who have returned a gift said doing so makes them “excited.” Just 1 percent of respondents admitted to being “angry” when a gift they give doesn’t make the cut, but 23 percent of men and 28 percent of women said they feel disappointed.
the lads are cheaper. As you can see from the chart, men are more likely to splurge on a special gift for their wives/ girlfriends. They’re also more likely to be acting under orders: 7 percent of men, versus 4 percent of women, said they’re usually “told what type of gift to buy.”
Too Much of a Good Thing
Maybe they’d prefer to have themselves cloned and live to age 50 twice. Whatever the reason, Americans don’t seem keen on living to 100. Twelve percent of respondents to a survey conducted for Shell Oil (and excerpted on the PollingReport Web site) said one of the worst things about the
21st century is that “Most people will live to be at least 100 years old.” (Only cloning drew a higher negative vote.) Along similar lines, a poll by The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found relatively few takers when it asked, “Would you like to live another 100 years?” A minority of respondents said they would-41 percent of men and 31 percent of women. Even among the 18-29-year-olds surveyed, just 41 percent would take the offered century.
mixed blessings
A Boom in Complaints, Satanic Marketing, Etc.
Nothing like prosperity to foment discontent. Between 1996 and 1998, complaints to state and local consumer agencies rose by 49 percent, according to a study conducted by the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators and the Consumer Federation of America. Cars were the leading bone of contention. When officials at consumer agencies were asked to name the top five categories of complaints they received, 72 percent included “auto sales” and 70 percent cited “auto repair.” “Home improvement” ran third (68 percent).
People weren’t just mad at local chiselers, though: “Household goods” (48 percent) came in at No. 4 on the complaint hit parade. Elsewhere in the top 10 were “credit/lending” (40 percent), “mail order” (24 percent), “auto leasing” (20 percent) and “travel/tourism” (16 percent).
It’s a sign of the times that ads for churches are scarcely less irreverent than ads for products. “God” is the name that dare not speak its name in this category. Ads tout something “spiritual” (which sounds nice) rather than “religious” (which sounds old-fashioned). An ad for New York’s Marble Collegiate Church has the humorous tone that’s in vogue, but it transcends current norms by restoring a supernatural element. People in the market for a deity who gets things done-as opposed to merely being their pal-will find this appealing. Follis Advertising of New York was the creator.
While God is generally a no-show in ads, some give the Devil his due-as does a piece for DBI/Sala’s Rollgliss rope-rescue systems. Since those gizmos must function smoothly in hellish environments, the ad (via Clarity Coverdale Fury of Minneapolis) displays the gear in the most hellish of all. It’s risky to use a celebrity in an ad, since you never know when a skeleton will emerge from his or her closet. Satan’s wickedness has been common knowledge for ages, though, so a client needn’t fear any nasty surprises.
Ah, the joys of children. A poll on the Parent Soup Web site asked parents how they’d describe their kids’ bedtime routine. For 3.7 percent, it’s “A wonderful way to end my child’s day.” Another 3.4 percent say it’s “Usually fun for all of us, but it takes too long.” Then there’s the 92.9 percent for whom it’s “A battle every night.”
from the pages of…
Consumer Research Finds The Darndest Facts
What signal do viewers take in when you populate your commercials with redheads? A racier one than you might have guessed, judging from a survey of women on behalf of Aliz Red Passion. (Imported from France by Kobrand Corp., it’s a ruddy concoction of cognac and fruit juice.) As the chart makes clear, redheads are viewed as a hot-blooded bunch. Handle with care! Another part of the survey asked women to pick their “favorite redhead of all time” from a list of TV/movie celebrities. Lucille Ball was the top vote getter, with 32 percent of the total-although 35 percent of respondents suspect she was a “bottle” redhead rather than a “real” one. Bette Midler (12 percent) and Nicole Kidman (10 percent) ran second and third in the voting. Jessica Rabbit picked up a respectable 7 percent of the tally, while Wilma Flintstone tied Molly Ringwald and Ginger Spice at 5 percent. And who is the respondents’ least-favorite redhead? Tori Spelling (31 percent) beat back a spirited challenge from the likes of Marilyn Manson (23 percent) and Carrot Top (18 percent) to win that status.
at the bar
A Fermented Apple a Day…
When you drink raspberry-flavored vodka, does it count as one of the two-to-four daily servings of fruit recommended by the feds’ food pyramid? If so, young adults must be brimming with health. Recent polling among
21-24-year-olds by The Zandl Group of New York finds respondents “gravitating to fruity new concoctions when they go out to bars and clubs.” If they’re not in the mood for a Woo-Woo (vodka, peach schnapps and cranberry juice) or an Absolut Mandarin, they may order a hard cider. It’s not as if this cohort has turned its back on beer, though: 49 percent say that’s the drink they usually order. When they try something new, it’s usually because a friend has told them of it. (Call it slurred-speech word of mouth.) Just 13 percent say ads prompt them to try new drinks