CONSUMER HUBRIS: Is There an Amateur Doctor in the House?
When news reports talk of “consumer confidence,” they refer to a sense of well-being about economic matters. But a booming economy tends to boost confidence in ways that have nothing to do with getting and spending, giving people a sense (however spurious) that they’re competent to deal with anything that confronts them. If the mutual fund you picked for your 401(k) has nearly doubled in value in the past couple years, you can’t help but feel smarter when it comes to picking an antihistamine. This may help explain a flurry of data that show people taking more control of their own healthcare. A Yankelovich poll shows 76 percent of adults agreeing that “people should take primary responsibility for their own health and not rely so much on their doctors,” while 55 percent “feel little need to consult a doctor or pharmacist ” when choosing nonprescription drugs. Likewise, a study of new mothers and mothers-to-be by Baby Talk magazine finds most of them scouting on their own for the sorts of advice mothers used to get from their doctors. This points to a convergence of two trends: People are increasingly sure of their own abilities at precisely the time when the rise of HMOs has left them with less confidence in the medical establishment. What remains to be seen is whether consumer confidence has transmogrified into consumer hubris. If the nation’s dose-it-yourselfers start keeling over, we’ll have our answer.

PLANE TRUTH: Sticking With the Plan
While airline commercials seek to entice business fliers with promises of edible food and solicitous service, a survey suggests such blandishments fall on deaf ears. Conducted among frequent business travelers for Condƒ Nast Traveler’s “Business Extra,” a special supplement to the monthly, the poll found just 3 percent of respondents citing “quality of food and drink” when asked to name the three factors that mean most to them when choosing an airline. (The chart shows the top picks.) Only 6 percent cited “staff/service” and a negligible 0.5 percent spoke of “inflight media.”

THOSE EYES! Taking Inventory Of the Opposite Sex
Good news for marketers of the various products women use to dress up their eyes: A poll in New Woman magazine finds men claiming to be more struck by those windows of the female soul than by the contours of the female body. Still, women’s bodies are far more likely than men’s to make a strong initial impression on the opposite sex. New Woman’s statistics, summarized in the chart here, also indicate that men should spend more time at the dentist and less at the gym if they hope to win favor with women.
Why do women put more stock in male smiles than men do in female smiles?
Perhaps the wide gender gap on this issue reflects the history of relations between the sexes. In pre-feminist days, women (more so than men) were often expected to smile whether they felt like doing so or not. As a result, there may be a lingering cultural inclination to take female smiles less seriously as a clue to temperament. If a man smiles, we’re more likely to see it as the outward manifestation of a genuinely sunny disposition.
On the other hand, perhaps women tend to inspect a man’s teeth as a clue to his general upkeep. If the guy’s bicuspids look grimy, imagine what the bathroom in his apartment must look like.

MIXED BLESSINGS: Under- and Overrated, Fuzzy Green Mascots, Bionic Powers, Etc.
Some people are obsessed with “personal bests.” Others simply want to get from Point A to Point B. Depending on how good their driving has been lately, a bicycle may be the quickest way for them to do so. West & Vaughan of Durham, N.C., targets the automotively challenged audience with a clever ad on behalf of a local bicycle shop. It won’t inspire you to win the Tour de France. But then, you weren’t likely to do that anyway, were you?
What’s the most overrated ad campaign ever created? And the most underrated? American Heritage magazine takes a crack at those questions as part of a larger feature on over- and underrated phenomena in subjects ranging from movie directors to holidays to presidential scandals. Winning dubious honor as the most overrated ad campaign is the Joe Isuzu series of the 1980s. It’s not that the campaign was bereft of ideas. Rather, says American Heritage, it fell prey to a bad idea. “This campaign was an egregious example of a common advertising failing: succumbing to a powerful creative idea even if it’s wrong.” Whether you agree with that analysis or not, Joe Isuzu ought to shoulder some of the blame for the scads of irony-drenched commercials he inspired–few of them as entertaining as the original. Meanwhile, what’s the most underrated ad campaign? American Heritage makes a curious choice: Doyle Dane Bernbach’s classic series for Volkswagen. Though freighted with laurels, the ads have not received their due, argues the magazine. Why? Because people forget how awful the car itself was–“an obsolete 1933 design specifically meant (like its latter-day German counterpart, the Trabant) to give poor people rudimentary transportation, and driven by related cost considerations down to the lowest common denominator of automotive capability.” Since the VW Beetle was “the worst product ever to become a sales smash,” its advertising must have been even better than we recall.

Add this to your list of Things I’ve Learned From Commercials. A spot for the am/pm convenience chain shows a couple of guys sitting in a car outside one of its stores. Guy No. 1 chugs an astounding volume of beverages just purchased from the am/pm. Guy No. 2 says: “Ya know, I heard about a guy who drank so much his bladder exploded.” Unfazed, No. 1 replies: “Well, I guess that’s why we have two bladders, isn’t it?” Credit Santa Monica, Calif.-based Rubin Postaer & Associates for this flight of anatomical inventiveness.

You can’t go wrong with a spot that parodies the earnest tone of Ken Burns’ multipart TV history of baseball. A campaign for the Vermont Expos, a team in the lowliest Class A minors, takes that tack as it compares the pure game of the past with the commercialized version of today. As the screen shows a sepia-toned photo of some bygone team and a mournful banjo picks out the melody of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” an old-timer’s voice is heard: “We had it all. We had the adulation and respect of the fans. We had the dedication. We had the summer sun on a warm July afternoon. We had everything–except for a big, green, fuzzy mascot. I think I woulda liked that.” Take that, you stodgy purists. If you’re keeping score at home, credit agency KSV of Burlington, Vt., for creating the campaign.

Not everyone is enamored of baseball, of course, especially if they’re competing against it. Thus, a campaign for a Chicago-based series of summer golf camps for kids takes pains to paint the national pastime in an unwholesome light–and quite a messy one, too. You’ve got to admit it: No other major American sport is so inextricably linked with spitting. Another ad in the series (via the Tom Reilly Consortium of Evanston, Ill.) offers this reality check to parents: “Prediction: Your kid will not be 6’9″ or have a 42″ vertical.” Good point. Still another poses this pointed question: “Ever see a hockey player smile?”

Honors for Best Use of a Garden Gnome and Accompanying Spotted Mushroom go this week to an ad for Lightware projectors–the sort that get lugged around the country for business presentations. Weighing in at a mere nine pounds (less than a large gnome!), it’s “so easy to use that you’d have to be a pink flamingo not to get it.” Elvis & Bonaparte of Portland, Ore., created the cheery ad.

And finally, the Oddest Factoid of the Week comes in a reader poll conducted by Weight Watchers Magazine: 24 percent of respondents agree that “chocolate gives them bionic powers.” What they do with those powers is left unstated. Perhaps just as well.