GOOD OLD BLANDNESS: Some Less-Than-Shocking News About Television
Here’s one of those info-tidbits you can interpret as bad news or good news: 52 percent of television viewers have been “shocked” by things they see on the networks’ regular series or made-for-TV movies. You can say it’s bad news that the networks are so free and easy about offending decent sensibilities. Or you can say it’s good news that a majority of viewers cling to standards that enable them to be shocked by the medium’s current gaminess. (Summarized on the Polling Report Web site, the Gallup/CNN/USA Today survey included WB and UPN as well as the larger networks.) Different people are appalled by different things, of course, but television has something for everyone. You’re not among the 44 percent who are most disturbed by TV violence? Then perhaps you’re in the 23 percent who cite “lewd and profane language” or the 22 percent who point to “sexual situations” as network shows’ worst offense. It’s enough to make one nostalgic for the days when programmers (and advertisers) were terrified of offending people. Sure, that tendency yielded plenty of bland shows, but this decade’s pop culture has made it clear that there are worse things than blandness. It was easier to speak contemptuously of “inoffensive” programming when inoffensiveness was the medium’s norm. Now it feels more like a treat since the networks have accommodated themselves to the decline of the mass audience by pandering to the young and the rude. Indeed, we’re approaching the point at which a majority of viewers would be shocked to encounter nothing but sweetness and light during an evening’s viewing.

FOR LOVE OR MONEY: Many-Splendored Things
There aren’t many poems about it–not even many pop songs. But money held up quite well in an ABC News online poll, with nearly one-quarter of the 32,000-plus participants ranking it ahead of love. The vote might have panned out differently had Alan Greenspan decided there’s too much love in circulation and acted to squeeze its supply. In fact, love suffers from a certain inelasticity in comparison to money. Dating back at least as far as the courtly love poets’ popularization of romance, thehappiness love can bring has not changed much. By contrast, the range of desirable things money can buy expands all the time. And people in the ’90s seem to believe they’re particularly adept at using their money to please themselves–as opposed to squandering it on ’80s-style ostentation. That opinion (whether correct or otherwise) has further enhanced the prestige of money. Meanwhile, we’ve yet to hear a credible suggestion that people are better at managing love than they used to be. Under the circumstances, maybe we should be surprised that anyone in the poll thought love is the more important of the two.

MIXED BLESSINGS: Trick or Treat, Baby, Make Way for Elbows, Browns Beat Ravens, Etc.
Bought your Austin Powers costume? ¸Don’t wait too long. Early indications are that this Halloween’s merry makers will be a Powers-mad bunch. An item in Biography magazine passes along a list of the “Top 10 Costumes for Halloween 1999” as compiled by the Home Sewing Association. The international man of over-hyped movies heads the list, followed by Star Wars and Pokemon characters. Helped along by Hollywood’s recent enthusiasm for period pieces, Elizabethan/Renaissance costumes land in fourth place, edging out the fifth-place Tarzan and Jane. Elsewhere on the list are wrestlers, witches and insects.

If kids view them as The Official Shoes of Juvenile Delinquency, it can hardly be bad for sales. Failing that, they’ll still relish the cheerful rudeness of an ad for Grind Shoes, a brand put out by Rollerblade. For those of you whose knowledge of extreme pseudo-sports isn’t up to snuff, grinding appears to consist of sliding along surfaces (curbs, railings, etc.) that weren’t intended for any such purpose. The otherwise sneaker-like shoes include a Twin Roller Bar System, which lets one accomplish this estimable feat while emitting a noise that “sounds like when some old guy is trying to park his car in the driveway and he keeps scraping up against the aluminum siding.” Can’t beat that, eh? Planet Design of Madison, Wis., created the piece.

Intuition would suggest we’re more an elbow society than a bow-tie society. Now we have the hard data to prove it. Drawing on research from the National Pasta Association and Information Resources Inc., an item in USA Weekend ranked 13 types of pasta in order of pounds sold in the U.S. Spaghetti (308 million) led the way, while elbows (121 million) ran second. Bow-ties lagged well down the list at No. 12 (25 million).

Will a stint at your agency look good on the rƒsumƒ of a young careerist? If not, forget about luring new college graduates to your ranks. In a study by a New York-based recruiting firm called Universum, seniors in business (as well as engineering and computer science) were asked to name the characteristic they’d find “most attractive in an employer.” As reported in an article in Fortune, “looks good on a rƒsumƒ” tied with “inspiring colleagues” for top honors (each chosen by 29 percent of respondents). Running a close second was “competitive compensation” (28 percent), followed by “flexible working hours” (20 percent), “variety of assignments” (17 percent) and “work benefiting society” (16 percent).

So that’s why people won’t eat their vegetables. A study by the American Institute for Cancer Research finds “77 percent of adults still believe they can reduce their risk of cancer by avoiding vegetables and fruits that have been sprayed with pesticides.” They are wrong to do so, says the institute, since the benefits of eating lots of fruits and vegetables “far outweigh the alleged health risks connected with pesticide residues sometimes found in these foods.” But nobody ever accused consumers of being rational. In any case, marketers of fruits and vegetables could view the study as pointing to an opportunity–as long as they can persuade people to adopt the experts’ analysis of risks and benefits.
Mamas, if you let your babies grow up to be cowboys, make sure they become Dallas Cowboys. In a Harris Poll conducted as the National Football League season got under way, Dallas ranked No. 1 when respondents were asked to name their favorite and second-favorite NFL teams. (As posted on the Polling Report Web site, results were given with the first- and second-place votes combined.) The 49ers and Packers tied for second, with the Broncos and Steelers filling out the top five. While the second coming of the Cleveland Browns has not been a success on the field, the team can take solace in having ranked well ahead of the Baltimore Ravens (which used to be the Browns until the team skipped town).

Honors this week for Best Use of Elvis in an Art-Museum Ad go to a piece for the Whitney in New York. The museum just opened the second phase of its big exhibit, The American Century, covering 1950-2000. To generate a sense of urgency among potential attendees, Bates USA in New York topped Andy Warhol’s famous take on Elvis with the enduring line about the King’s whereabouts. If that doesn’t whet your appetite for 50 years of art and culture, what would?

BOOM AND BUST?: More Good News Like This And They’ll Be Ruined
If online sales reach $6 billion during this year’s holiday shopping season, that will be (a) great for online retailers or (b) a fiasco for online retailers. If you chose (a), guess again. A report by Jupiter Communications notes the downside of what the research firm expects to be a doubling in online sales versus last year’s holiday season: Lots of people will have a crummy experience in making their first online purchases. Keep in mind that the holidays are always the worse time for shopping. Moreover, people are flocking to electronic commerce in such numbers that marketers may not be ready for them. The report suggests the influx this year “could lead to additional site failures, inadequate customer service and poor order fulfillment.” Newcomers to online shopping will be “far less forgiving” of such lapses, and they could easily come away soured toward the whole business.

AUTODIDACTS: Thanks for Your Concern But What Are Your Rates?
Admit it: When a commercial shows how caring an insurance agent is, you get kind of misty. Not everyone is so sentimental, though, at least where auto insurance is concerned. A new J.D. Power study of that category concludes the performance of insurance agents has “little impact” on how pleased a customer is with an insurer. What drives customer satisfaction is price. Little surprise, then, that “less than half of study respondents were continuously loyal to their auto insurer over the past three years.” Among those who’d switched insurers, price was the reason most often cited. The report says consumers are more aware than they once were of varying prices, thanks to the Internet and media attention to insurance rates.

MIND THE GAP: When We Put Our Money Where Our Mouse Is
Women are from Hallmark, men are from Bob’s Digital House of Porn. That, plainly, is the moral to be drawn from the chart, which presents research from PC Data Online of Reston, Va. Among other gender differences in online behavior: Women are more likely than men to surf the Web with a specific task in mind (80 percent versus 71 percent); men are more likely to seek stock quotes (13 percent versus 8 percent).

QUICK LEARNERS: A Degree of Difference In Views on Education
Amid the tightest employment market in living memory, polling by Yankelovich Partners detects a subtle shift in the way Americans regard education. On the one hand, fancy educational credentials seem less essential for career purposes at a time when people drop out of college to oversee their own zillion-dollar IPOs. On the other, the booming economy lets people imagine (as they did in the halcyon ’60s) that they can indulge their academic interest in 17th century poetry without dooming themselves to lives of penury.
The number of respondents believing a graduate degree is necessary “to ensure a good career” has fallen from 66 percent last year to 61 percent this year. At the same time, the number who view education as important “for its own sake” has taken a significant upturn, as you can see from the chart. Yankelovich links this fact to a broader trend toward appreciation of “intangibles” as a new millennium draws near. (But note that the “for its own sake” contingent is still a fraction of the size of the “getting ahead” cohort.)
As for being a “cultured, well-rounded person,” one hesitates to imagine what that concept means to people these days. After all, universities are more and more timid about insisting that some core of knowledge is indispensable. At such a time, the proverbial man on the street has little guidance in defining the substance of what it means to be “cultured.” But it does sound nice, doesn’t it?

DEEP STUFF: It’s a Fried, Fried World
Consumers talk a good game about eating a healthier diet, but sales figures can reveal a greasier truth. In the latest case, the telltale data concerns food steamers and deep fryers. The NPD Group finds sales of fryers rose 32 percent in the first half of this year, while sales of steamers were flat. The research firm credits the fryers’ rise to consumers’ gluttony, not to marketers’ machinations: ” the sales spike did not result from new advertising or promotions launched this year.” No need, evidently.

POSTPONE THE REVOLUTION: In the ’90s, a Rising Tide Lifts All Polling Numbers
These are disappointing times for people who’d like to foment class war. With some people getting wealthy at a headlong pace, the gap between the rich and the unrich is wider than ever. Trouble is, the people at the bottom of the scale are generally doing better (in absolute terms) than they used to, so economic discontent is at a low ebb. The charts here reflect the latest Gallup polling on the subject. Overall, 64 percent of the survey’s respondents said they’re better off financially than they were three years ago, versus 18 percent saying they’re worse off. The poll didn’t give people the option of saying their financial circumstances have stayed the same, but 16 percent volunteered that answer, anyway.
As you’d expect, the number of people feeling they’re better off rose in tandem with their location on the income scale. Even among those with household income under $10,000, though, the number saying they’re better off now than three years ago (39 percent) exceeded the number saying they’re worse off (36 percent). And among those in the $10,000-15,000 range, it wasn’t even close, with 48 percent better off and 29 percent worse off. By the time you reach the $30,000-50,000 income bracket, “better off” trounces “worse off” by a margin of 68 percent to 19 percent.
In its analysis of the survey data, Gallup notes there are “no significant differences among whites, blacks and other minorities in the percentage who report financial improvement.” Nor does the polling detect a gender gap. Married people are more apt than singles to say they’re doing better, but there’s no disparity to speak of between divorced men and divorced women. In a breakdown of the data by age, 78 percent of those 30 and under said their financial situation has gotten better, versus 69 percent of those age 30-49, 63 percent of the 50-64s and 43 percent of those 65 and older.