Mixed Blessings

Well-Informed Worry, War on the Web, Etc.

There’s nothing like information to scare people. The emergence of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (aka SARS) illustrates this principle. In an ABC News/ Washington Post poll, 58 percent of those who said they’ve followed SARS news very closely were afraid of catching it. The figure fell to 34 percent among those following the issue somewhat closely and to 28 percent among those not following it closely.

Religious as they are about shopping, Americans can turn any holiday into a retail opportunity. Easter is no exception. A survey conducted for the National Retail Federation found 77.5 percent of Americans planning to celebrate Easter. On average, respondents said they’d spend $103 in the process, with food ($27) and clothing ($20) accounting for the biggest outlays.

As if it weren’t bad enough that teen boys waste their time playing videogames, Jupiter Research encourages marketers to target teenage girls. Describing teen girls as “a highly under-served sub-segment,” a report from the research firm says 57 percent of them play videogames, vs. 95 percent of male teens. Game companies can develop content that will make the category more appealing to girls, the report suggests.

Just in case consumers had forgotten about Mad Cow Disease, a billboard for the Wahoo’s Fish Taco chain offers a reminder. People in the struggling fast-burger industry will feel their fast-fish counterpart is kicking them while they’re down, but it’s a dog-eat-dog world. Another ad in the series (via TDA Advertising & Design of Boulder, Colo.) takes an oblique swipe at the competition by telling consumers, “Don’t super size yourself.”

While war has made Americans nervous about traveling abroad—civilian Americans, at least—fear isn’t the only factor keeping them at home. In a reader poll by Travel + Leisure, 41 percent of respondents said they are “not willing to travel to countries that do not support the U.S.” Relatively few Americans travel overseas in any given year, so these sentiments may have limited effect. But what if American vacationers start to shun U.S. cities that don’t support U.S. policy?

If you’re ever tempted to believe that consumers are going “back to basics,” there’s a ready cure for this delusion. Just read a report about the new products coming into the marketplace. From the latest edition of Mintel’s Global New Products Database, for instance, we learn that a company named Vitakraft has introduced a line of sauces for dog foods in the Netherlands. “The sauce is designed to add extra flavor to dry dog food and comes in convenient pouches, and in flavors such as salmon.” In Germany, Nestlé is introducing a melon-flavored instant cappuccino (for people, not dogs). Here in the U.S., a brand called Peanut Better is rolling out sweet and savory peanut butters. Among the sweet varieties are Deep Chocolate and Vanilla Cranberry. Among the savory versions are Spicy Southwestern and Rosemary Garlic.

Make sure your agency’s creatives get enough sleep, even if they are on deadline. Summarizing some new research, a bulletin from the National Institutes of Health says “subjects who slept four to six hours a night for 14 consecutive nights showed significant deficits in cognitive performance equivalent to going without sleep for up to three days in a row.” But these drowsy souls didn’t realize how dysfunctional they’d become, “feeling only slightly sleepy.”

sales aren’t going through the roof, exactly. According to figures compiled by R.L. Polk, the number of convertible cars registered in the U.S. fell 2.7 percent last year, to 302,320. Nonetheless, “2002 was just the second year in the past 30 that convertible registrations topped the 300,000 mark.” And the convertible proportion of all passenger-car registrations actually rose, from 3.6 percent in 2001 to 3.8 percent last year. (Convertible SUVs have yet to catch on.) While the numbers remain relatively small, convertibles play an important role in generating showroom traffic and enhancing brand image, Polk says.

This week’s honors for Least Appetizing Character in an Anti-Smoking Commercial go to a spot for the American Cancer Society. The scene is a diner, where a patron has violated the “no shirt, no shoes, no service” rule in a big way. He is, not to put too fine a point on it, naked. As he uses a fork to scratch his toes, a voiceover says the must-be-clothed rule “was created to protect you from unhealthy and unsanitary conditions.” The waitress, meanwhile, is inundated with customers’ cigarette fumes, prompting the voiceover to inquire: “So, where’s the law for secondhand smoke?” An onscreen tagline says, “Let’s clear the air in restaurants.” Trion Communications of Providence, R.I., created the spot.

Who says the tax code’s complexity is a drag on the economy? A report by The NPD Group says retail revenues from tax software are up 13 percent for this year’s tax-prep season vs. last year’s. The sector’s 6.2 million unit sales yielded $204 million in spending.

Thank goodness for dishonest doctors. That’s how lots of Americans feel, anyhow. A University of Chicago researcher found 26 percent of adults believe a doctor should mislead a patient’s insurance company if that’s the only way to get it to pay for a medical procedure. Just 11 percent of doctors said they’d be willing to engage in such deception.

If the first Gulf War marked cable TV’s arrival as a source of news, the current one has done the same for the Internet. In a study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 17 percent of wired adults cited the Internet as one of the two sources from which they get “most” of their war news. That puts it nearly on a par with newspapers (21 percent) and radio (22 percent), though TV is in a league of its own (87 percent). It’s not that the Internet is prospering at the expense of the old media. Asked to identify the Web sites they’ve used for war news, 32 percent of wired adults cited American TV-network sites; 29 percent spoke of American newspaper sites. U.S. government sites (15 percent), foreign news organizations (10 percent) and weblogs (4 percent) drew fewer mentions.