Mixed Blessings

Though hesitant to use “whipped” and “sexiest” in the same sentence, we must report that Americans rate whipped cream as the sexiest food. At least, participants in an online poll by Food & Wine and America Online did so. With 38 percent of the vote, whipped cream edged past “a heart-shaped, ruby-red strawberry” (36 percent). Exerting less sex appeal were juicy peaches and sizzling steaks (13 percent each). As for respondents’ “favorite American food style,” Midwestern beef-and-potatoes (32 percent) beat Tex-Mex (30 percent), Southern fried (24 percent) and Cajun/Creole (15 percent). When at home, 44 percent eat most of their meals at the kitchen table, 32 percent at a coffee table, 18 percent at the dining-room table and an athletic 6 percent “standing up.” Finally, some marketer could get rich with a line of foods designed for convenient noshing in bed. Though 33 percent of respondents never eat in bed and 34 percent seldom do, 17 percent chow down there at least once a month and 15 percent do it “as often as I possibly can.”

If you’re uncomfortable about making major purchases, shouldn’t you also be uncomfortable about making minor ones? In sum, after all, the minor ones eat up much of your income. Nonetheless, attitudes about big and small purchases don’t always move in tandem. We gather this from perusing Ipsos-Public Affairs/Cook Political Report survey data from the past 18 months. In late July, 36 percent of those polled said they’re more comfortable now than six months ago about making “a major purchase, like a home or a car”; 40 percent said they’re less comfortable. As for “other household purchases,” 40 percent were more comfortable and 38 percent less so. In May/June polling, the split regarding major purchases was 33 percent “more comfortable” and 46 percent “less”; for other purchases, “more” and “less” tied at 39 percent apiece. In major-purchase data for the first quarter of 2002, “more comfortable” trailed “less” by 34 percent to 45 percent, even as “more” beat “less” by 41 percent to 38 percent when it came to non-major purchases. Why do some respondents split their votes on these issues? It seldom pays to underestimate consumers’ irrationality, but this two-track thinking makes some sense. Having refrained from buying a Rolls-Royce, you could rightly feel in a better position to afford a Rolling Rock. With a suitable sales pitch, a canny marketer of small-ticket items might profit from people’s reluctance to buy big-ticket goods.

Is the “greatest generation” a menace to society? It is when it gets behind the wheel, judging by a pair of incidents last month in which elderly drivers lost control of their cars and ran down multiple victims. In a Gallup poll fielded after the first but before the second of these cases, 33 percent of respondents said drivers over 75 are more dangerous than teen drivers, notwithstanding the notorious recklessness of the latter cohort. Some would argue that the elderly are no less a menace when they enter a voting booth, given the presidential-election chaos that ensued in 2000 when many of them were befuddled by the “butterfly ballot” in Florida. Meanwhile, the phrase “greedy geezers” has become a fixture of political discourse about federal entitlements for retirees. One wonders if a shift is under way in popular attitudes. Younger adults have long deferred to old folks (however patronizingly) as fonts of time-tempered wisdom. This tendency is reflected in advertising’s stereotypical use of the White-Haired Sage as a stock character. How long can that image persist, though, if non-elderly Americans come to regard old folks as the ones most likely to run us over, mess up our elections and bankrupt the national treasury?

It’s not the sort of disagreement that sets off barroom brawls. Nonetheless, Americans are split down the middle when it comes to their preferences in financial services. A WirthlinWorldwide poll asked whether respondents would prefer a financial-services provider that “focuses on a particular offering” (such as banking or brokerage) or one that “has a broad offering of products and services.” In all, 51 percent favored a single-focus company and 49 percent preferred the broad-offering conglomerate. People were also asked to state the degree to which they link some positive attributes with each sort of entity. The single-focus company outpolled the conglomerate as “trustworthy,” “caring” and “effective,” while the conglomerate was more apt to be seen as “innovative.”

Apart from suing potential customers for file-sharing, is there anything the recorded-music industry can do to boost sales of CDs? Respondents to a survey by The NPD Group say there is. “Bonus tracks” were the most popular inducement (cited by 54 percent), followed by discount/rebate offers (48 percent) and video content (42 percent). Stickers were cited as the most effective way of calling attention to these features.

If you move in godless circles, as urban professionals often do, it’s easy to forget that religion is a force for many people. In a study by the Pew Center for the People and the Press, 61 percent of adults said religion is “very important” in their own lives. Asked how often they draw on their religious beliefs in “the choices and decisions you make in a typical day,” 45 percent said “frequently.” The chart shows regular attendance at religious services is more the rule than the exception. For connoisseurs of religio-automotive data, the poll asked people whether they thought Jesus would drive an SUV. Twenty-nine percent said he would; 33 percent said he wouldn’t. Seven percent opined that Jesus would walk rather than drive at all. A sensible 31 percent said they don’t know or refused to answer.