Mark Dolliver’s Takes: Mixed Blessings

Consider it a tribute to the health-giving properties of sloth. In a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 66 percent of adults rated their health “excellent” or “very good.” Yet, many fewer—31.5 percent—claimed to engage in “regular leisure-time physical activity.” There was little gender gap in self-reported health status in the report, which drew on interviews conducted January-September of last year. However, men were more likely than women (33.5 percent vs. 29.7 percent) to say they regularly get physical. The difference was particularly glaring among 18-24-year-olds (45.4 percent of men vs. 33.9 percent of women). One wonders if the men count elbow-bending as a form of exercise: Elsewhere in the same report, 27.8 percent of men confessed there had been at least one day in the past year when they downed five or more drinks. Just 12.3 percent of women said the same.

You can take the affluent consumer out of the middle class, but can you take the middle class out of the newly affluent consumer? A study by American Express Publishing and the Harrison Group looked at households with “discretionary” income of $125,000—that is, income left after undiscretionary expenses like mortgages and taxes are subtracted. Among these prosperous folks (grandly dubbed “The New American Aristocracy”), nearly 80 percent started out middle class. Moreover, 69 percent of New Aristos amassed their wealth within the past 15 years. As such, they spend “with a middle-class mind-set,” performing “due diligence” to save money and regularly relying on comparison shopping. More broadly, “They feel middle class at heart, and many do not yet feel comfortable with their wealth.” Poor dears.

Geezers may be bankrupting the U.S. treasury with their various entitlements, but public opinion has yet to turn on them. At any rate, Americans wish the old folks had more say in our society, not less. A Gallup Panel poll asked respondents whether “political leaders in Washington pay too much attention, about the right amount, or too little attention to the needs” of various constituencies. The vote for senior citizens was 5 percent “too much,” 28 percent “about right” and 66 percent “too little.” The vote was less positive for gays and lesbians (46 percent too much, 27 percent about right, 24 percent too little) and religious conservatives (48 percent too much, 33 percent about right, 17 percent too little). Hispanics (25 percent too much, 40 percent about right, 32 percent too little) didn’t fare as well in the poll as blacks (16 percent too much, 48 percent about right, 34 percent too little). Military veterans scored best of all: 2 percent too much, 16 percent about right and 81 percent too little.

Meet the energetic drunkards.There are increasing numbers of them. A report by Mintel declares that the pairing of energy drinks with alcoholic beverages has become a trend. According to the research firm, “more than one-fourth of adult energy-drink consumers said that they mix energy drinks with alcoholic beverages,” exceeding the 14 percent who combine them with other non-alcoholic drinks. Spiked or unspiked, the category is growing briskly. Sales hit $3.2 billion last year, and Mintel forecasts they’ll “rise to as much as $5.9 billion in the next four years.”

There are no atheists in foxholes, it’s said. But in this country, there aren’t many atheists outside of foxholes, either. A Newsweek poll found just 3 percent of adults categorizing themselves as atheists. Even more striking, 48 percent answered “no” when asked if they personally know any atheists. Sounds like a reason to think twice before enlisting a brazen atheist as celebrity endorser.

Consumers would rather look good than smell good, it seems. In a report on the “prestige” end of the beauty market, The NPD Group finds makeup has surpassed fragrance in sales, reversing the pattern of the previous decade. Makeup accounted for $3.1 billion in sales last year, vs. $2.9 billion for fragrance. Revenues for women’s and men’s prestige fragrances collectively slipped 2 percent last year, as sales of makeup rose 3 percent. Fragrances associated with fashion designers have moved to the fore, at the expense of those linked to other celebrities. Women’s “celebrity scents” suffered a 17 percent sales decline last year. On the makeup front, “mineral makeup” with natural ingredients has been a growing niche.

Bring on the hemlock. Socrates was convicted of corrupting the youth, and now Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan are accused of the same. In a BIGresearch poll, people were asked whether those three women “are corrupting the morals of today’s youth.” Few said “not at all” (3 percent) or “not really” (13 percent); many said “somewhat” (33 percent) or “very much” (42 percent). As if the morals of today’s youth needed corrupting.

From an e-marketer’s standpoint, online Americans spend a lamentable amount of time using the Internet to seek information (and misinformation) when they could be buying things. Wikipedia has become a significant element in this phenomenon. A study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project finds use of Wikipedia is “more popular on a typical day” than many other online activities, “including online purchasing, visiting dating Web sites, making travel reservations, using chat rooms and participating in online auctions.” The chart below offers detail on the demographics of Wikipedia users. People end up at Wikipedia as often as they do because search engines take them there. “Over 70 percent of the visits to Wikipedia in the week ending March 17 came from search engines, according to Hitwise data,” says the report. “In fact, Wikipedia has become the No. 1 external site visited after Google’s search page, receiving over half its traffic from the search engine.”