Saving Us From Food, The Big Picture, Etc.

Stop them before I overeat again! With obesity challenging tobacco for the status of Public-Health Enemy No. 1, Americans want the government to stop Big Food from tempting them too much. In a poll commissioned by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the San Jose Mercury News, adults were asked whether they favor the feds “regulating television ads for junk food and fast food that are aimed at children and teens the way they do for cigarettes and alcohol.” Those supporting the idea “strongly” (29 percent) or “somewhat” (24 percent) outnumbered those opposing it (19 percent somewhat, 24 percent strongly). Backing for such action wasn’t confined to concern for young innocents. Two-thirds of respondents said they’d back “warning labels on packaged food about the health risks of being overweight, just like there are warning labels on cigarettes about the health risks of smoking” (40 percent supporting it strongly, 27 percent somewhat). As for a “special tax on junk food—that is, things like soda, chips and candy—and using the money for programs to fight obesity,” 57 percent opposed the notion either somewhat (17 percent) or strongly (40 percent). But that left a sizable minority in favor—18 percent strongly and 22 percent somewhat. If we end up with more of a nanny state than we’ve already got, fat will have been the thin edge of the wedge.

Amid the controversy about same-sex marriage, Americans have a gloomy view of the different-sex variety. In a New York Times/ CBS News poll, adults were asked if they think most people who get married expect their marriage to last “forever” or expect “that they will divorce sooner or later.” Respondents split evenly, with 47 percent taking each position. Newlyweds themselves feel differently, though, judging by an online poll by Elegant Bride magazine: Just 7 percent of brides said they’d sign a pre-nuptial agreement.

It surely isn’t good news that consumer confidence has been declining in the past few months. But it may not be quite the usual sort of bad news—i.e., a leading indicator that consumers will pull back on their spending. The latest Gallup poll on the topic (fielded the week before last) finds 44 percent of adults believe the economy is getting better, down from 53 percent in mid-February and from 66 percent in January. In what Gallup refers to as an “intriguing twist,” though, there has not been a corresponding decline in people’s “spending intentions.” In fact, the number of respondents saying they plan to increase their overall spending during the next six months has risen, from 26 percent in February to 31 percent in this month’s poll. “This reverses a downward trend in spending intentions seen since November, and is the highest level of intended spending Gallup has recorded on this question since its inception in October 2001.” Having at least tried to restrain their spending since the recession hit three years ago, some consumers likely have developed a case of Frugality Fatigue. Marketers will hope so, anyhow.

Copywriters of the world, unite and demand more space. When an art director purports to need the room in an ad to make the photo nice and big, you can brandish the findings of University of Michigan Business School researchers on the subject. “Contrary to advertisers’ popular belief, increasing the size of the visual element does not increase consumers’ total attention to an advertisement, the study shows.” Oddly enough, readers are interested in words. “To attract maximum attention to the ad as a whole, advertisers are better off devoting more space to the text portion and increasing the headline size than using large photos or illustrations.” The researchers drew these conclusions by means of infra-red technology that tracked the way readers’ attention is “captured and transferred.” One advantage of longer copy is that reading takes time, which boosts the “gaze duration” an ad garners. As such, the text draws more attention to the message as a whole, while the visual “is most effective in drawing attention to itself.” (There, I knew a picture wasn’t really worth a thousand words!)

What’s the best thing about the arrival of spring? The departure of winter. In a poll by Smithsonian, “warmer weather” was cited by 50 percent of respondents asked to pick their favorite aspects of the season. “Flowers bloom” finished a close second (49 percent), followed by “longer days” (43 percent) and “gardening” (28 percent). The poll also asked people to name their favorite spring flowers. The tulip was tops (cited by 43 percent), ahead of the daffodil (41 percent), iris (29 percent) and crocus (21 percent).

Perhaps you should tactfully suggest to the client’s CEO that he not star in his company’s ads. A new Harris Poll suggests consumers wouldn’t be very receptive. Harris conducts an annual survey in which adults are asked how much confidence they have in the “people in charge of running” various institutions. The number expressing “a great deal” of confidence in the leaders of major companies dropped to 12 percent in the new poll—the lowest figure in a dozen years. Thirty percent said they have “hardly any” confidence in those who run big companies. If these numbers were part of a broader grumpiness about major institutions, corporate bosses could be tempted to shrug them off. Instead, the poll’s overall Confidence Index—which reflects scores in 14 categories ranging from the White House to medicine to organized religion—is near its all-time high, despite poor numbers this year for the branches of federal government. Organized religion’s “great deal of confidence” score rose to 27 percent this year from 19 percent last year, putting it back where it stood before the recent revelations of scandal. Even “Wall Street” fared better than those in charge of major companies. Though well below the highs reached at the peak of the boom, the proportion of respondents expressing great confidence in Wall Street’s leaders climbed to 17 percent this year from 12 percent last year.