Novice Couch Potatoes, Canine Consumers, Etc.

It’d be nice to think kids spend more time reading or being read to than they do in front of a screen. As with so many things in the nice-to-think category, though, this one is contradicted by the data. A study of kids ages 0-6 by the Kaiser Family Foundation finds they spend an average of 118 minutes per day with “screen media” (including TV, videos/ DVDs, computers and video games) and just 39 minutes reading or being read to. The good news is that they spend less time with a screen than playing outdoors (121 minutes). Likewise, the proportion of kids who spend at least an hour a day outdoors (72 percent) is higher than the number who spend at least an hour gazing at the tube (53 percent). As parents know, kids adopt the TV habit almost from birth. The average amount of TV time is only slightly lower for kids ages 0-3 than for their 4-6 elders. Thirty percent of the 0-3s have a TV set in their bedrooms, as do 43 percent of the 4-6s. Rightly or not, parents don’t feel TV is rotting the brains of their offspring. The number saying it “mostly helps” their kids’ learning topped the number saying it “mostly hurts” (43 percent vs. 27 percent, with 21 percent saying it has “not much effect”).

Who should bear the cost when people insist on behaving in insalubrious ways? It depends. In a survey conducted by Harris Interactive for The Wall Street Journal Online’s Health Industry Edition, respondents were asked whether people with unhealthy lifestyles should pay more for their health insurance. Fifty-eight percent said smokers should pay more; 53 percent said the same of people who don’t wear their seat belts. Just 27 percent favored higher costs for people who are overweight, and the same number said people who don’t exercise should pay more. Women were more indulgent than men, especially about weight: 20 percent of women, vs. 35 percent of men, said people who are overweight should pay more for health coverage.

In our so-called service economy, self-service can be the most reliable sort. That helps explain favorable attitudes toward the proliferation of self-checkout lanes at stores. In an ACNielsen poll, 61 percent of respondents said they’ve used self-service lanes. Among these, a majority said the lanes are “great” (32 percent) or “okay” (52 percent). Just 16 percent called them “frustrating.” But it’s not as if uninitiated consumers are eager to try the technology. Among those who’ve yet to use the lanes, a mere 25 percent said they plan to do so in the future.

Good news for turkeys: A report by The NPD Group says many U.S. households will not be serving turkey on Thanksgiving. Of the 64 percent of Americans expected to eat at home that day, “only half will prepare turkey. Other dishes made at home include ham, chicken, an Italian dish and a ‘special’ family recipe that includes meats, pasta and/or vegetables.” Still, it’s not as though the stereotypes about Thanksgiving dinner are entirely mistaken. People are 35 times more likely to eat turkey on Thanksgiving than on any other day. They’re also 55 times more likely to eat cranberry sauce, 31 times more likely to eat stuffing and 21 times more likely to eat pie. Meanwhile, a Census bulletin of Thanksgiving-related data reveals, in passing, a cultural shift away from the old reverence for the Pilgrims. It refers to them (accurately but oddly) as “the religious separatist Pilgrims.” Makes them sound a bit sinister, doesn’t it?

Maybe dog-food brands should buy ad space on fire hydrants. Research by Decision Analyst says dogs are “the true masters of their households when it comes time to choose pet food.” When dog owners were given a menu of factors and asked to pick the one that most influences them in choosing a brand of food for Rover, the top choice (cited by 34 percent of respondents) was “the dog likes it.” Other leading factors were “prior experience with product” (20 percent), “specific ingredients” (17 percent) and “quality” (16 percent). Just 8 percent of respondents said they choose a brand chiefly due to “value for the money.” One suspects a larger proportion choose their own food on that penny-pinching basis.

In a perfect world, everyone would exude consumer confidence. In a pinch, though, marketers will settle for a world in which confidence is high (or, at least, rising) among the people who have money to spend. And that’s what they’ve got. As the economy shows signs of improvement, upper-income consumers (who tend to be more confident in any case) are far more upbeat than their low-income compatriots. In a Gallup poll, 61 percent of respondents with yearly household income of $75,000-plus said economic conditions are improving—an opinion shared by just 32 percent of those with income under $20,000. By the same token, people in the $20,000-30,000 bracket were nearly twice as likely as those in the $75,000-plus cohort to describe current economic conditions as “poor” (36 percent vs. 20 percent). A Washington Post/ABC News poll offers further detail on who’s confident and who’s not (see the chart). While marketers will be glad that well-heeled consumers are more sanguine about the economy, they’ll be sorry that women (i.e., the designated shoppers in many households) are more wary.