POOOOR BIG TOBACCO: Hey, You Think It’s Easy Being a Merchant of Death?
It’s hard to be seen as an underdog when you make tons of money selling a lethal product. But the tobacco industry has a shot at it. As if losing court battles and succumbing to stricter federal regulation weren’t enough, it’s now the villain in a Hollywood movie (The Insider). And with fresh data showing the incidence of smoking has leveled off in the ’90s after falling for a couple of decades, the feds are vowing to intensify their attack. Private lawsuits continue to buffet the industry. All told, won’t the sheer tonnage of this assault make people more sympathetic to cigarette makers? When it’s a case of Big Tobacco versus little kids (as the industry’s tormentors often frame the issue), you side with the kids. But when it becomes Big Tobacco versus Hollywood plus grasping trial lawyers plus government bureaucrats, the emotional texture of the case feels different. Part of the problem is that the anti-smoking movement has now been around long enough to have ossified into a profession–often a lucrative one–with image problems of its own. Asking whether “the anti-smoking crusade has gone too far,” a piece in The Economist argues that “disapproval has turned into intolerance, persuasion into outright bullying.” At the same time, a Gallup poll offers a reminder that tobacco isn’t popularly viewed as Public Enemy No. 1. When people were asked whether tobacco or alcohol “causes the most problems for society,” drinks beat smokes by 77 percent to 12 percent. (Nine percent of respondents found the two substances equally troublesome.) Another recent poll, by ABCNews.com, found Americans reluctant to hold tobacco companies responsible for smokers’ ills. Sixty percent of those surveyed said cigarette makers shouldn’t have to pay damages to smokers for tobacco-related illnesses, versus 34 percent saying the companies ought to pay. Under the circumstances, we shouldn’t be surprised if consumers start to find anti-tobacco advertising as tedious as any other big-budget category.

TV’S ON!: Sizing Up Our Ideas of Fun
One would expect Gen Xers to be more in the market for “big excitement” than their jaded and/or weary elders. The surprise from Yankelovich Partners polling is that “the little pleasures in life” hold pre-eminent appeal for this youthful cohort as well. Among other things, the finding suggests marketers may be miscalculating when they target Xers with endless numbers of ads that display an “extreme” sensibility. Even among most young adults, a little of that stuff goes a long way. At the opposite end of the spectrum, it’s nice to see that a significant minority of the older folks aren’t resigned to lives of tea cosies and Murder, She Wrote reruns. The tube rules, though. When respondents of all ages were asked to name the favorite things they do “in spare time for fun and enjoyment,” the top answer was “Watch TV,” cited by 59 percent. The runner up was “Time with friends/family” (53 percent). Reading bested sex (47 percent to 41 percent), but the former has waned since a 1997 poll, while the latter has waxed. “Take a walk” (46 percent) edged out “Go to the movies” (43 percent).

READ: Computers as Menace To the Youth of America
“Timmy, turn off that computer and watch some TV!” That’s the cry parents will take up as they hear of a survey of 9-12-year-olds by New York-based Berenter Greenhouse & Webster. Examining how computers and the Internet affect kids, the study found “high users” of computers spend half as much time reading as high users of TV. And the computer enthusiasts were five times as likely as kids in general to say reading is their “least-favorite activity.” Other info-tidbits: On average, couch potatoes said they have five close friends, while mouse potatoes claimed just two. How do kids feel when surfing the Web? Among the high users, the top answer was “lonely.” Moderate users were most likely to say they feel “mature,” while the light users reported feeling “empowered.”

LATIN DATA: Learning the Languages Of the Hispanic Market
As marketers become more sophisticated in addressing the Hispanic market, they’ll soon learn there’s no such thing–or, more precisely, that it’s not a homogeneous entity. Two new studies of Hispanic consumers make this clear. For instance, research by People en Espa„ol found Hispanic adults under age 35 likelier than their elders (89 percent versus 78 percent) to regard themselves as more Hispanic or Hispanic/American than simply American. Women were more likely than men (88 percent versus 80 percent) to hold that view. Among Hispanic adults in general, 64 percent said they prefer ads in Spanish to those in English. Meanwhile, a study sponsored by the California Milk Processor Board found bicultural Latino teens in Los Angeles were ambivalent about Spanish-speaking advertising. Production values are a factor concerning TV spots. “More than 75 percent of these teens stated it was obvious more time and money had been invested in English-language advertising.” Hence, they were more apt to recall “relevant, appealing” spots in English. (Taco Bell’s chihuahua was “universally liked.”) And they especially liked hearing some Spanish in spots airing on English-language TV.