The Scale Of Anxieties, Non-‘Feminists,’ Etc.

What a relief to be faring well when the rest of the nation is going to hell in a handbasket. Anyhow, that’s the sensation many Americans must have, given their responses to a Washington Post/ABC News poll this month. Asked whether things in this country are generally going “in the right direction” or have “gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track,” 29 percent said “right” while 69 percent said “wrong.” Then the poll narrowed things down somewhat by asking how things are going in each respondent’s state. This time, “right” trailed “wrong” by a modest 45 percent to 52 percent. How about “your local community”? When the query was put in those terms, “right” easily beat “wrong,” 58 percent to 41 percent. The poll didn’t ask respondents whether they personally are on the right or wrong track, but it did ask how satisfied they are “with your life overall at the present time.” Most said they are “satisfied” (51 percent “very,” 33 percent “somewhat”); few said they’re “dissatisfied” (4 percent “very,” 11 percent “somewhat”). As for their “own personal future,” 89 percent said they’re “optimistic,” vs. 10 percent “pessimistic.” One moral of the story: A marketer who wishes to play on consumers’ unease with the world at large must also reckon with their contentment about things closer to home.

If you owe less than $3,000 on your credit card, congratulations: You’re bringing down the national average. A Gallup poll finds the average credit-card holder has 2.9 cards and carries a total unpaid balance of $3,426 on them. Not that there’s anything wrong with it! As the chart below indicates, fewer than half of all credit-card holders start with a clean slate each month. Still, worry about being able to make the minimum payment is more the exception than the rule. Eight percent said they’re “very worried” about it, vs. 47 percent “not at all worried.” The incidence of worry varies inversely with household income, as well it might. Even among cardholders in the under-$30,000 bracket, though, those who are “very” or “moderately” worried (28 percent) are far outnumbered by those who are “not too” or “not at all” worried (61 percent).

“Feminist” continues to be a dud of a brand name. A CBS News poll asked women, “Do you consider yourself to be a feminist, or not?” Just 27 percent said they do. However, 65 percent answered affirmatively when asked if “the women’s movement achieved anything that has made your life better.” Given women’s aversion to the “feminist” label, one would have been curious to see their responses if they’d been asked whether the movement has done anything that’s made their lives worse, but the question went unasked. It’s intriguing that the number of respondents saying the women’s movement has improved their lives is lower than the 77 percent saying the “overall status of women in this country” has gotten better than it was 50 years ago. Quick arithmetic suggests some of them believe the movement has been immaterial to the improvement in women’s status over that period.

Talent is optional, apparently, when it comes to celebrities’ appeal for teenagers. An online poll by USA Weekend asked kids in grades 6-12 to pick the attribute that “matters most to you in a celebrity.” From the menu of four choices, a bare plurality (36 percent) picked “talent,” while “personality” got nearly as many votes (32 percent). Seventeen percent picked “character,” of all things; 15 percent said “looks” matter most. To what degree is teen behavior influenced by celebs? Sixteen percent of girls and 6 percent of boys have dieted because they “wanted to look more like a celebrity.” The poll also asked whether “a lot of teens want to do the same” when celebrities behave in certain ways. Seventy-seven percent said a lot of teens want to lose weight when a celeb has done so. Sizable numbers said there’s much desire for imitation when a celeb gets a tattoo (58 percent), drinks alcohol (48 percent), smokes cigarettes (47 percent), uses drugs (39 percent) or has a baby (25 percent). So, next time you see a tattooed, drunken, cigarette-smoking, drug-addled teen pushing a baby carriage, you can assume a celebrity is to blame.

You’ve got to respect a contest whose winner gets a mustard-yellow belt to denote his champion status. And, indeed, that’s one of the features of a spot (frames shown above right) for Nathan’s Famous, calling viewers’ attention to the company’s annual hot-dog-eating contest. For added relish, the commercial includes a person dressed as a hot dog, a person dressed as Uncle Sam and multiple people dressed as referees. Was the spot concocted by a Brooklyn shop with a blue-collar moniker? No. It was created by Manhattan Marketing Ensemble, which sounds like a cross between an ad agency and a string quartet. But the commercial is funny anyway.

A diplomatic man would say a woman improves a home simply by being in it. Be that as it may, growing numbers of women prefer a more hands-on role in buying home-improvement goods. A study by The NPD Group says women are “not only playing a larger role in the decision-making process around home improvement, they are actually making purchases more often.” They make more than half the purchases of storage/ organization products and almost half in such product segments as lighting, paint, kitchen/ bath, lawn/garden, flooring and safety.

Given the advances in medical science, why isn’t the average lifespan rising sharply in the U.S.? One answer is that there’s a contest afoot between medicine’s efforts to extend life and Americans’ gluttonous tendency to shorten it. People rely on science to grant them absolution for their dietary sins, with only partial success. A report co-authored by academics at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and its medical school sheds light on people’s thinking. When taking a “supplement” (vitamins, minerals, etc.) to deal with a condition like high cholesterol, consumers are fairly conscientious about diet and exercise. With mere supplements, there’s a sense that “the remedy alone is insufficient to take care of the risk unless accompanied by other health-protective behaviors.” But when people take a “drug,” they see it more as a “get-out-of-jail-free card,” believing it “eliminates or reduces the risks of such bad habits as eating high-fat foods, excessive drinking or a sedentary lifestyle.” Would that it were so.