Got Culture?
Forget Baywatch ˜We’re Off To Madame Butterfly!
Not known for fomenting revolution, The Wall Street Journal proclaims that we are in the midst of one right now. Under the headline “Forget the Stereotype: America Is Becoming A Nation of Culture,” a front-page article earlier this month described “a revolutionary transformation of American culture” as people all over the country flock to art museums, operas, symphony orchestras, regional theaters, exotic restaurants, etc. Sure, people still watch endless amounts of junk TV and eat tons of Wonder Bread, the article conceded. But the embrace of high culture is so widespread as to indicate that “the lowest common denominator of American culture is rapidly rising.” Yikes! Given advertising’s penchant for seeking out the lowest common denominator, our readers may be alarmed to hear that it has become a moving target. As opera companies and museums spring up all over the landscape, perhaps you can go broke underestimating the level of taste that reigns in the American mass market. Marketers who take this trend seriously will recalibrate the Brow Factor in their ads, ratcheting it up from low-brow to middle-brow or (depending on the brand) even upper-middle-brow. But while catering to consumers newly arrived to the ranks of the cultured, they must also soothe the vanity of lifelong culturati who’ve treasured their superiority over the uncultured booboisie. Lots of luck with that task.

Here’s How
Driven Home To Drink
As marketers beg Gen Xers to drink more alcohol in bars, older consumers react to this undignified spectacle by drinking more at home. Given the skew of beer, wine and liquor ads, that seems as good a theory as any to explain NPD Group data on dinnertime drinking at home. The Port Washington, N.Y.-based research firm also notes that alcohol has eclipsed coffee at the dinner table for the first time. In 1990, coffee was served at 6.2 percent of at-home dinners and alcohol at 2.5 percent. In the ’98 data, coffee completes 3.4 percent of dinners while alcohol accompanies 3.5 percent.

Mixed Blessings
The ABCs Of Loyalty, Designated Drinkers, Silo Safety, Etc.
McDonald’s can’t post sluggish sales for more than a week without some wiseacre headline writer diagnosing a case of “Fallen Arches.” Thus, the company must have relished using inverted golden arches as an emblem of its plugged-in status. The artful Web address appears in an ad created by the Madrid outpost of Leo Burnett to drum up potential McDonald’s franchisees.

If a brand wants to inspire customer loyalty, what should it do? For starters, it should have a name whose initial letter is close to the beginning of the alphabet. At least, that’s one way of interpreting the findings of a study in which New York-based Brand Keys polled consumers on their degree of loyalty to brands in 13 categories. There’s nothing surprising about the brands that top the list. But when you look at the roster of winners as a whole, the alphabetical bias pops out at you. Of the 13 brands, seven begin with the letters A or B: Adidas, Airborne Express, American Airlines, Amstel Light, Budget Rent-a-Car, Budweiser and Burger King. C and D account for another three–Coca-Cola, Diet Pepsi and Discover Card–with F (First Union) yielding one more. Just two of the brands generating the most loyalty in their categories–US West and Xerox–fall in the latter half of the alphabet. And you wonder why we call ourselves Adweek instead of Week in Advertising.

What is it about France? In an era when Americans are more circumspect than ever about characterizing different sorts of people, it’s still open season on the French. One can always make snide remarks about them without getting into hot water–and advertisers often do. For instance, a current ad for a video game called Global Domination (via Cornyn + Partners of San Francisco) justifies an invitation to “Wipe France off the map” by noting that “50 million snobs is way too many.” A poster promoting a concert of George Gershwin tunes by the Richmond Symphony is more subtle, remarking on the French distaste for us rather than stirring up distaste for them. Hearkening back to a time (mythic or otherwise) of Franco-American amity, the poster sets the proper nostalgic mood for a concert connected to the composer’s 100th birthday. CadmusCom of Richmond, Va., created the piece.

Whatever else they’re learning, college students aren’t learning moderation. A study by the Harvard School of Public Health attracted attention earlier this month with data showing a high incidence of binge drinking among students at campuses around the country. But while the number of students falling into this category showed little change from a similar study in 1993, the researchers found a sharp rise in the proportion of students who don’t drink at all–from 15.6 percent in 1993 to 19 percent in the new study (which uses data collected in 1997). What’s increasingly absent amid all the binging and abstaining is moderate drinking–i.e., the sort people can survive when they no longer have the iron constitution of an undergraduate. Adopting the terminology of cigarette opponents, the report speaks of the “secondhand effects” of binge drinking. And it suggests, plausibly, that the rising percentage of abstainers may reflect their aversion to the excesses of the bingers. But one wonders if such abstention has negative secondhand effects of its own. In other words, the temperate souls who might exert a restraining influence on their fellow bar-hoppers aren’t at the bar in the first place. Just as groups of revelers are urged to include a “designated driver” among theirnumber, maybe collegiate merrymakers need to bring along a “designated light drinker” who can set a salutary example for them by knowing when to say when.

Honors this week for Best Cautionary Advice in a Print Ad go to The Stanley Works and its agency, Mullen of Wenham, Mass. With the Cold War ended (at least for now), it would be awfully embarrassing to get yourself blown up by a retired ICBM.

Are older Americans more phobic about new technology than younger folks are? Yes. But Yankelovich polling finds they’re not alone in their fears. While 80 percent of “matures” agreed that technology is so confusing that “it is often hard to know what brand or model of a product to buy,” 70 percent of boomers and 69 percent of Xers felt the same way.

And speaking of new technology, an ad for a Web site suggests it’s better to be interactive than terminally inactive. Copy asks, “Why kill yourself shopping for a car?” The ad (via Bill Brokaw Advertising of Cleveland) urges readers to “Log onto autosuperstore.com. Then get on with your life.”

A Dose Of Statistics
Sick of Healthcare? Most People Are Not
Connoisseurs of polling data have long noticed an anomalous relationship between people’s view of their own lives and their take on the world at large. While telling pollsters that the country is going to hell in a handbasket, people will also express unalloyed optimism about their personal prospects. Along those lines, while Americans routinely lament the state of healthcare in the age of the HMO, a survey by Newsweek finds a majority of them quite satisfied with their own access to care. Indeed, it finds only a trivial difference on this broad question between people who are in managed care and those covered by traditional health plans. (See the chart at right.) Under the circumstances, one almost wonders whether people derive some therapeutic benefit from grousing about the state of the nation’s healthcare apparatus.
Naturally, the survey results have implications for healthcare advertisers. Look at reels of commercials in this category and you’ll see the recurring motif is one of discontent: Your current health plan stinks, these spots say, so switch to ours! Well, if most folks don’t think their current health plans stink, such messages will fall flat.
On the other hand, the survey does find that 90 percent of respondents favor a law that would let them choose any family doctor or primary-care physician they please. Moreover, 44 percent of those in managed care would be willing to pay up to $500 more a year to cover the increased cost of such a setup, and another 12 percent would be willing to pay as much as $1,000 more. The poll yielded similar figures when people were asked if they’d be willing to pay more for direct access to specialists.

Chaste Teens
Even If They Think About Sex All the Time
In this age of Dawson’s Creek, people take it as a given that most teenagers are sexually active (not to say hyperactive). Statistics do not confirm that supposition, though. With data covering the period 1991-’97, a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracks a “steady decline in the proportion of high-school students who have ever had sexual intercourse and the proportion who have had sex with multiple partners.” The number of “sexually experienced” high-school students fell from 54.1 percent in 1991 to 48.4 percent in 1997. One intriguing footnote: Boys accounted for virtually all of the decline.

On The Radio
Car-Free Drive Time?
Time to test your radio acumen. Is it true, as many people suppose, that more listeners tune into radio at the top of the hour than at other parts of an hour? No, it’s not, according to a report on radio listening patterns compiled by New York-based Interep, drawing on Arbitron data from radio’s top 10 metropolitan areas. “Overall, there appears to be no discernible pattern in radio listening between the first, second, third or fourth quarter-hour positioning, although certain formats and programming devices may cause individual variations on a station-by-station basis,” says the report. Radio’s reach is highest between 7 and 8 a.m., according to Interep, with 58 percent of people age 12 and over listening during that hour. Among other findings in the report: Notwithstanding the term “drive time,” 48 percent of morning drive-time listening is done at home, versus 29 percent in cars and 21 percent at work. In evening drive time, 37 percent occurs in cars, 34 percent at home and 26 percent at work.

Don’t Touch That Dial, Touch That Other Dial
Conventional wisdom depicts TV viewers as inert if not downright comatose. Still, many advertisers proceed as if these couch potatoes can be goaded into direct action. A new study by the Response Marketing Group says 24 percent of TV commercials include a toll-free phone number. In a sign of the cybertimes, 19 percent of spots give a Web address. Among those giving a toll-free number, 79 percent display it “prominently,” the study says, with 40 percent including a mention of it in the voiceover. Will viewers recall the phone number of an advertiser that has caught their interest? To help them along, 57 percent of spots that feature a toll-free number employ a so-called vanity number that translates into a pertinent word.