GREEN REVOLUTION: Feeling Contented Locally, Discontented Globally
It’s one of those perennial adages: People think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. While we’ve all seen cases of the tendency, does this ancient truth remain as true as it once was? Some recent surveys give cause to suspect it doesn’t. Among the latest is a new study on education. As in many other surveys, a joint study by National Public Radio, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Kennedy School of Government found Americans heaping disdain on the public schools. Just 2 percent of respondents gave the nation’s schools a grade of A, while 51 percent gave them a C, 14 percent a D and 4 percent a failing mark. When people were asked about their community’s own schools, though, 12 percent gave an A and 40 percent a B, versus 41 percent handing out a C or worse. This pattern isn’t confined to education. While surveys routinely show Americans bad-mouthing the healthcare system, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found 41 percent “very satisfied” and 34 percent “fairly satisfied” with the availability of care for themselves. One other current example: The number of Gallup respondents expecting Y2K to cause “no problems at all” for themselves is more than double the number who feel it’ll be trouble-free for society in general (40 percent versus 15 percent). With its continuous loop of bad news about faraway places, perhaps the information age has altered the old perception that the grass is greener elsewhere. In any case, measures of discontent with the world at large are now unreliable indicators of people’s feelings about their own verdant circumstances. 40 percent of respondents to a Gallup poll expect the Y2K bug to cause “no problems at all” for themselves personally, while just 15 percent say it will be trouble-free for society in general.

PICK YOUR SIN: Depravity Quantified
Some surveys raise more questions than they settle. Take a recent McCall’s poll of women, from which the chart below is drawn. Did those who feel guiltiest about eating junk food outnumber those who feel guiltiest about having affairs because women think the former is more sinful than the latter? Or does the disparity reflect a higher incidence of gluttony than infidelity among the respondents? We’ll never know. Instead, we must content ourselves with learning that 32 percent of the women have eaten “an entire pint of ice cream in one sitting.” Among other tidbits: 26 percent have “worn something and then returned it to the store where it was purchased” and 9 percent have “lied on their job application or rƒsumƒ.” Happily, not all of the revelations are so sordid. We also learn that 51 percent of the women change the sheets once a week and 31 percent do so twice a month. A poll of men on this issue would deal in terms of years and decades.

RISK FACTORS: Don’t Expect a Downturn In the Heartburn Market
Will changes in lifestyle reduce consumer demand for heartburn remedies? The very prospect must give pharmaceutical firms a queasy feeling. But a study summarized in Archives of Internal Medicine suggests they have little to fear. Querying people who identified themselves as heartburn sufferers, a researcher found “most survey respondents were unable to identify risk factors” for the affliction. Likewise, while doctors link “certain foods and lifestyles” to the malady, “most respondents did not report they modified these behaviors to avoid or prevent heartburn.” Rather, 45 percent take a nonprescription remedy to stave off symptoms. The study detected a gender gap among respondents, with women “70 percent more likely than men to report stressful family situations as a trigger for heartburn” and men “50 percent more likely than women to report business travel as a cause of their heartburn.”

BORED WITH THE BUG: Let’s Hope 2000 Itself Is Not So Disappointing
It’s not too late for a comeback. After all, the big day is still months away. But after having become a favorite worry among paranoids everywhere, the Y2K crisis has fallen on hard times. The chart below, showing data from a series of Yankelovich Partners surveys, documents a steep drop in the percentage of Americans who expect the Y2K computer bug to wreak havoc on their lives. The decline coincides with brisk growth in the number of people claiming to know “a great deal” about the millennium problem–from 34 percent last August to 65 percent this August. It’s always a bad sign when a brand’s appeal declines after it has been widely sampled. Meanwhile, Gallup issued its latest poll on the subject under the headline, “Americans on the Verge of Y2K Complacency.” Even the fear of New Year’s airline travel has abated, with just 20 percent of respondents to a new Zogby America survey saying they’d avoid flying due to Y2K worries. One other telling sign that Y2K has lost brand equity as a top-of-the-line disaster: A study by PricewaterhouseCoopers finds the number of Y2K-related lawsuits filed thus far in the U.S. is “less than expected.” And wait–it gets worse: “Even more surprising, there already has been a reduction in the number of new cases” in the first half of 1999 versus the second half of ’98. If you can’t sue someone over Y2K, how big a deal can it be?

CARS IN CYBERSPACE: Going Online to Narrow One’s Shopping List
We all know people are using the Internet to help themselves choose big-ticket items. The less-discussed corollary is that they’re using it as a quick way to eliminate brands from consideration. That fact comes to life in a J.D. Power study of the car market. The number of consumers using the Internet to gather information on new cars is forecast to top 5 million this year, so we’re not talking small change here. Among the Internet shoppers surveyed, more than one-third have “crossed at least one vehicle off their shopping list as a direct result of information they found online.” If consumers are making such judgments on the basis of “cold hard facts alone,” it means they can’t be swayed by the traditional test drive–or, for that matter, by the glossy images presented in automotive advertising. The study offers little cheer to U.S. manufacturers, as “the more time a person spends online, the less likely he or she is to purchase a domestic vehicle.” While domestic makers have about 70 percent of the American market, “this share drops to 58 percent among Internet shoppers.” Of course, the current demographics of the Internet are skewed toward people who tend to buy foreign cars anyway, so the rise in online car shopping needn’t mean a shift toward foreign brands. Still, you can’t blame U.S. automakers for worrying when they note that “only half the shoppers who submit a purchase request to an online buying service purchase a domestic vehicle.” And those buying services could account for 5 percent of new-car sales by next year.

HOME ALONE: Just Give Me More Time With My Favorite Person
It’s not exactly that “hell is other people,” as the amiable Sartre suggested. It’s just heavenly to have some solitude. According to a survey by Mervyn’s California, as recounted in Redbook, women especially treasure “alone time.” Indeed, 74 percent of those age 25-44 ranked it as “the most or second-most important use of their time.” Redbook’s analysis relates this statistic to another finding: 90 percent of the women in that age bracket describe themselves as “independent.” Be that as it may, the appeal of “alone time” (versus family or friend time) reflects its scarcity, with 60 percent of respondents saying it’s the “hardest for them to carve out of their busy days.” One possible lesson to draw from the survey: If “alone time” is a luxury for women, maybe more commercials for fancy brands should employ it as an emblem–showing women happily by themselves rather than in the midst of adoring family and friends.

MIXED BLESSINGS: Irrational Exuberance,
Royalty Reconsidered, What Coeds Owe, Etc.
Maybe this is why today’s men are notoriously reluctant to commit: They know marriage will entangle them in a life of washing dishes, laundering clothes and mopping floors. Anyhow, one might infer that sorry expectation from a survey of betrothed couples by Bridal Guide magazine. A remarkable 94 percent of respondents said they plan to share “all the household tasks.” A somewhat less remarkable 62 percent said each partner’s job will have “equal priority” in their marriage. But jobs now command relatively low share of mind among these couples-to-be. Asked to rank various elements of marriage in order of priority, respondents put “family” atop the list and “career” dead last. Which sitcom couple do they regard as a role model? A majority (62 percent) named Tim and Jill Taylor of Home Improvement, while the careerist Billy and Georgia of Ally McBeal polled just 7 percent.

Top ranking among Ad Agencies Unlikely to Create a Commercial Featuring Kathie Lee Gifford goes this week to New York-based Holzman & Kaplan Worldwide. Stressing that “Editing always helps,” another ad in the series for an editing/post-production house features a bogus Playboy whose cover announces, “Now With No Articles.”

Some financial advertisers tap into consumers’ economic anxieties. Others feed into their irrational exuberance. Which course would be more lucrative right now? We get a hint from an ABC News online poll that asked people to say whether they think the Dow will finish the year over 12,000. A sanguine 59 percent of participants said they think it will, come Greenspan or high water. Meanwhile, a press release has come our way in which a greeting-card company introduces a new line of holiday cards to reflect the current zest for capitalism. “Business people and stockbrokers can now send Christmas cards that incorporate the financial themes of their professions,” says CardMakers of Lyme, N.H. “The cards feature colorful cartoons that are sure to spread the joy of the season”–unless, of course, the Dow has plunged to 6,000 by the time Christmas rolls around.

Given the vast amount of gratuitous bathroom humor circulating in pop culture, one takes pleasure in seeing ungratuitous bathroom humor. And who better to provide it than a brand of toilet paper? In an ad aimed at the lodging industry, Kimberly-Clark urges readers to “roll out the red carpet” for their enthroned guests. (Howard, Merrell & Partners of Raleigh, N.C., created the ad.) The premise is that people like being treated “like royalty.” Given the way real-life royals are treated these days, though, we may wonder whether that expression has been overtaken by events.

With college students now back on campus, advertisers vie to sell them everything imaginable. The trouble is, much of the students’ money is already spoken for. A Glamour survey of female collegians finds 44 percent saying they’re in debt due to tuition loans. Among those in that boat, 24 percent owe more than $25,000 and another 44 percent owe more than $10,000. Asked how long it will take to pay off the debts, 29 percent said “10 to 15 years” and 43 percent said “5 to 10 years.”

Can beer solve the problem of male-female miscommunication? One brand is trying, via table tents created by San Diego shop Matthews/Mark. Another entry in the “Quick Reference Guide” from Ballast Point Brewery explains what a woman is saying when she tells a guy, “I’ve been thinking a lot.” She really means, “You’re not as attractive as when I was drunk.”

Who says Americans have lost interest in the the nation’s universities? A new Harris Poll finds a sharp rise in the number of people saying they follow college football–from 30 percent in 1997 to 35 percent last year to 42 percent this year. Respondents who do follow the sport were also asked to name their favorite team, and Notre Dame topped the list for the third year in a row. Florida State held onto the No. 2 ranking, while Michigan moved up one notch to No. 3.

Didn’t there used to be an unwritten rule in advertising that you don’t compare the client to a dog with a bad toupee? The ad for Risk Capital (via Keiler & Co. of Farmington, Conn.) shows how far we’ve come from such constraints–for better or worse. If they can take their eyes off the Elvisesque ‘do, readers will grasp the point that Risk Capital has a “dogged determination to find the best solutions for our clients.” Woof!

GLOBAL STRESS: Nothing Like ‘Feelings’ To Calm Those Jitters
Some folks relax by curling up with their favorite advertising-trade magazine. Oddly enough, this isn’t the world’s top “stress-buster,” judging by the results of a Roper Starch Worldwide study. That status belongs to music, chosen by 56 percent of respondents in a 30-country poll on favorite ways to unwind. The number of people choosing music was even higher in North America (64 percent). The numbers are especially striking when you consider that involuntarily hearing someone else’s loud music is one of life’s more stress-inducing phenomena. (If typical 50-year-olds were subjected to the tops of the teen pops, they’d have to be sedated to recover their baseline stress levels.) Television viewing ranked second on the global stress-buster list, cited by 53 percent of respondents. Rounding out the top three: taking a bath or shower (49 percent). The study hints at a decline in the importance of hobbies amid the bustle of modern life, with just 15 percent of respondents mentioning them–though the figure rose to 22 percent in Western Europe, where Old Worlders presumably cling to traditional pastimes. In Latin America, a mere 10 percent cited hobbies. Parents will be unsurprised to read that playing with children ranked low on the global stress-reduction scale, chosen by 16 percent. Of special interest to food marketers: 22 percent put “eating a favorite food” on their stress-buster lists.