Mixed Blessings

What do people do when they’re not watching TV? They talk about TV, that’s what. A poll by Barna Research asked adults to say which of seven topics they discuss with others in a typical week. Sixty-six percent said they talk about movies and TV shows, putting that category ahead of money (57 percent), sports (55 percent), politics (51 percent), parenting (50 percent), moral issues/situations (49 percent) and religious/spiritual beliefs (42 percent). Among other tidbits in the data: Respondents under age 55 were more likely than their elders to talk about moral issues. And while religious people were the most likely to say they discuss spiritual matters, “the research found that one out of every three agnostics and atheists (32 percent)talk about faith-related matters during a typical week.”

Should a company fret if a competitor launches a big-budget ad campaign? So one would think. In the prescription-drug market, though, Brand A should be delighted to learn that Brand B is spending its money on a direct-to-consumer campaign. A new study conducted for the Kaiser Family Foundation concludes that “DTC advertising of a drug in a class boosts sales for the class as a whole, but does not boost the market share of the advertised drug relative to its competitors.” Naturally, this raises the question of why any one brand in a well-advertised category should care to spend its own money on ads. Time will tell whether the rise in DTC ad spending (up at an annual rate of 28 percent between 1996 and 2001) will slow if brands try to hitch free rides on their rivals’ ad budgets.

It takes more than madness in Canada to make Americans unwilling to eat beef. So we gather from polling The NPD Group did following the discovery of a case of mad-cow disease in Canada. Seventeen percent of respondents said they’d eat fewer burgers. But an intrepid (or, at least, peculiar) 16 percent said they’d eat more. Another 56 percent said they’d sustain their current level of burger consumption, while 11 percent lead burger-free lives irrespective of mad-cow news. The study’s findings were quite similar with respect to steak. More generally, 69 percent said they believe the food supply in this country is safe.

No wonder they have trouble breaking through the glass ceiling: Women don’t grasp the importance of the big desk. A poll by The Hon Co., a maker of office furniture, asked male and female office workers to say which elements of office decor most convey an aura of prestige. For men, the “big desk” topped the list, followed by “comfortable, adjustable chair,” “matching office furniture” and “new office furniture.” Among women, matching furniture led the voting, followed by the comfy chair and new furniture. The big desk was dead last.

Until the sun burns out, marketers ought to enjoy a receptive audience for sunscreen products. A report by Mintel says sales of such wares have grown by nearly $150 million since 1997, reaching $547 million last year. Still, the report says the market should be considerably bigger. Just 45 percent of adults said they use suncare products, as do 51 percent of teens. Among those who do slather on the stuff, “the majority are concerned about preventing skin cancer by blocking UVA and UVB rays.” Four in 10 are intent on avoiding sunburn. On the other hand, “Few respondents seemed worried about the aging effects of the sun.”

Who knew that wedding cakes have a gender? According to Bridal Guide, 41 percent of today’s couples plan to supplement the traditional wedding cake with a “groom’s cake,” a smaller confection “featuring a motif important to the groom.” (Past girlfriends, maybe?) The magazine also detects a rise in “destination weddings,” with the number of couples considering an exotic site up 65 percent in the past year. Elsewhere in the bridal press, polling by Bride’s finds older couples more likely than younger ones to plan their own nuptials. Of those in their 40s, 88 percent do so, vs. 76 percent of those in their 30s and 61 percent of those in their 20s. All three age cohorts share the same choice of a song for their first dance: “At Last” by Etta James.

Choosing among current and recent White House occupants, which would you invite to your July 4 barbecue? In a survey of women by Family Circle, George W. and Laura Bush (33 percent of responses) edged the Carters (30 percent) and Clintons (27 percent). George H.W. and Barbara Bush trailed (11 percent). A Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll, meanwhile, asked people to choose the political figures they’d care to take along on their summer vacations. In the Bush administration, Colin Powell would get a few more invitations than the president (33 percent vs. 32 percent); Donald Rumsfeld wouldn’t get many at all (8 percent). An unsociable 23 percent would want “none” of them. As for top Democrats, Bill Clinton would elicit more invitations (31 percent) than Ted Kennedy (12 percent) and Tom Daschle (11 percent) combined. But 42 percent of respondents would prefer to have none of them along.

Perhaps it’s because we enjoy eating, driving and dressing up, while we don’t get much fun out of healthcare. Whatever the reason, a Harris Poll finds Americans more critical of the prices they pay for medical care than of the prices for other consumer goods (see the chart). Given the tenor of political debate, it’s not surprising that a majority of respondents (56 percent) favor governmental price controls for prescription drugs, with nearly as many (43 percent) supporting them for doctor bills. What’s remarkable, in the supposed stronghold of hyper-capitalism, is that 27 percent would back price controls on automobiles. Significant numbers of those polled would also favor them for packaged foods (23 percent) and clothing (17 percent).