Mark Dolliver’s Tales

Think of it as holiday-commercialization synergy. The boom in gift cards as Christmas presents is helping to fund a rise in gift-giving for Valentine’s Day. Lots of people still have gift-card dollars to spend as February rolls around, notes a report from the Brand Keys research firm, and Valentine’s Day is the first significant holiday on which they can spend it. This is helping to further a trend (which already had been in evidence) in which Feb. 14 becomes an occasion for gift-giving between all sorts of friends and family members, and not just sweethearts or would-be sweethearts. Polling by Brand Keys found men planning to spend an average of $161 on Valentine’s gifts, while women expect to spend $90. Outlays will be higher among 18-34-year-olds ($160) than among 35-49s ($67) or those 50 and up ($50). Some of the presents will be gift cards, naturally, leaving consumers primed for yet another splurge on President’s Day. Dinner is the most common Valentine’s Day activity, and 51 percent of respondents plan to mark the occasion with one. Thirty-three percent plan to go to a movie. Alarmingly, the number of respondents citing “sex” as a Valentine’s Day activity far exceeds the number who’ll “stay at home” (28 percent vs. 4 percent).

As YouTube evolves from niche novelty to mainstream fixture, the total time people devote to it is growing briskly. This prompts the question: Are YouTube devotees cutting back on other activities to make time for it? Harris Interactive put that question to adults, and found (as the chart below indicates) that YouTube is indeed cutting into time heretofore allotted to other pastimes. (It’s a safe guess that people under 18 are even more likely to have shifted some time to YouTube from other activities.) The poll also offers some insight into YouTube’s potential to become a significant commercial medium. People who frequently go to the site were asked whether they’d do so less often if it included “short commercials” before every clip. Thirty-one percent said they would visit YouTube “a lot less.” Another 42 percent said they’d visit “a little less”; 21 percent said the presence of commercials would not affect the frequency of their visits, and 6 percent weren’t sure. (The survey didn’t even bother asking whether re-spondents might go to YouTube more often if every clip were preceded by a commercial.)

Maybe they just aren’t very imaginative. In an Associated Press-AOL survey, 30 percent of teenagers said they “can’t imagine life without instant messaging.” Seventeen percent of adults said the same. Among teens who indulge in instant messaging, one-fifth send more than 100 messages per day. They aren’t always conveying welcome news: 16 percent of teenage IMers said they have used this technology to break up with someone. Instantly.

If the phrase “union member” still makes you think of a guy in blue overalls tending a machine, you’re way behind the times. A report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics says the proportion of private-sector wage and salary workers who belong to a union continued its long decline last year, dwindling to 12 percent (from 12.5 percent the previous year). The figure now stands at 7.4 percent for private-sector workers. Among people who work for the government, it’s a much more robust 36.2 percent. The typical union member is now more likely a teacher than a metal-bender. There is also a distinct geographic skew to union membership. Nearly half of the 15.4 million union members in the U.S. now live in six states: California, New York, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. To illustrate state-to-state variation, the report offers this example: Florida and Minnesota have roughly equal numbers of union members, though Florida has three times as many workers overall.

Rhetorical purity generally isn’t the strong point of car-dealer ads. As such, readers will be pleasantly surprised to see a dealership ad (shown at upper right) that strikes a blow against one of the genre’s sillier turns of phrase. Dan’s Westwind, a General Motors dealership in Canada, treats the term “pre-owned” (as opposed to “used”) with the ridicule it deserves. That in itself may not be reason enough to buy a vehicle from Dan, but it’s close. Woodruff Sweitzer, a Kansas City, Mo.-based ad agency with an outpost in Calgary, created the ad.

There are bad girls and there are worse girls, as far as the public is concerned. Lindsay Lohan was regarded unfavorably by 53 percent of adults in a new Rasmussen Reports poll, while 20 percent viewed her favorably. (The rest didn’t opine either way.) That puts her slightly higher in public esteem than Courtney Love (58 percent unfavorable, 16 percent favorable). In a detention class by themselves were Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Both got unfavorable ratings from 71 percent of those polled; 13 percent gave Spears a positive vote and 12 percent were pro-Hilton.

Add asparagus and carrots to the long list of things on which parents and their children disagree. A reader poll by FamilyFun magazine gave parents a list of vegetables and asked them to cite their three favorites and their kids’ three favorites. Carrots made the top three for 46 percent of kids, vs. 19 percent of parents. Conversely, 21 percent of parents included asparagus among their faves, while just 4 percent said it’s a favorite of their kids. Avocados are also much more popular with parents than with kids, 13 percent vs. 3 percent. (Maybe the kids realize it’s actually a fruit.) Broccoli rated as a favorite for parents and children alike (40 percent, 35 percent). So did corn, though it’s a bigger favorite of kids (55 percent) than parents (35 percent). The real bone of contention (if vegetables had bones) would be the amount of vegetables kids eat. The poll asked parents to pick the three issues that concern them most about their kids’ diets. The highest vote went to “eating enough vegetables” (58 percent), putting it ahead of “eating unhealthy snack foods” (42 percent) and “eating candy and other sweets” (33 percent). In other words, what kids don’t eat is often a bigger worry than what they do eat. One last info-morsel: Parents were asked to rate their kids’ table manners on a scale from 1 (“like a pack of wolves”) to 10 (“like Miss Manners”). The average score was a surprisingly unlupine 6.7. But then, we don’t know whether this means children have high standards or parents have low standards.