Takes

GENETICALLY MODIFIED WHAT?: We Like Ghastly Food, But Only If It’s Naturally Ghastly
Chances are they haven’t even tried the stuff, but Americans are developing a distaste for genetically modified (gm) foods. Europeans are notoriously averse to importing American-grown gm foods. Now, Americans show signs of importing the European aversion. A new Harris poll makes the point that Americans’ relative indifference to the controversy does not prevent them from holding negative opinions. So far, just 15 percent of Americans have read, seen or heard “a lot” about gm foods. Nonetheless, 45 percent were ready to assert it’s “very” or “somewhat” likely that foods made from genetically engineered crops “will be poisonous or cause disease in people who eat them.” Likewise, 56 percent said it’s “very” or “somewhat” likely the growth of such foodstuffs will “upset the balance of nature.” Under the circumstances, it’s no surprise 86 percent of respondents believe the government should “require labeling of all packaged and other food products stating that they include corn, soy or other products which have come from genetically modified crops.” To the extent the survey holds glad tidings for would-be marketers of such foods, it’s in the finding that 38 percent of respondents believe the “benefits outweigh the risks.” Still, 48 percent feel the “risks outweigh the benefits.” And while people are willing to take all sorts of risks in other parts of their lives, “extreme eating” has yet to become a popular sport. One intriguing statistical quirk: People who said they’d seen/read/heard “some” about the topic (as opposed to “a lot,” “not much” or “none”) were the only ones more apt to see benefits outweighing risks (47 percent) than the reverse (39 percent). People who dress up as tomatoes-gone-bad and riot in the streets will see these numbers as vindicating their anti-gm activism. One wonders, though, if the reverse is true. Maybe the one thing that could quickly salvage the image of gm foods is a mainstream hunch that anti-gm sentiment is the natural province of a zealous fringe.

VANILLA RULES: It’s Not Plain, It’s Subtle
As in the past, the American people have again rejected the viewpoint that makes “plain vanilla” a term of disparagement. Responding to a Zogby America poll that asked them to name their favorite ice cream flavor, a plurality (24 percent) chose vanilla. Chocolate ran a respectable second, pulling 21 percent of the vote, and mint chocolate chip (11 percent) edged out strawberry (10 percent) for third place. In a breakdown of the data along political lines, Democrats made vanilla their top choice (25 percent); Republicans favored chocolate (23 percent). And what about different age groups? Mint chocolate chip was tops with the 18-24 cohort, while chocolate ran first among the 25-54s and vanilla led the 55-plus vote. When they can tear themselves away from ice cream, what sort of juice do consumers prefer? Zogby found orange juice the favorite (38 percent), with cranberry juice a distant runner-up (12 percent).

MIXED BLESSINGS: Those Deductible Lies, TV’s Unwatchful Viewers, Burgers Without Fear, Etc.
When people say honesty is the best policy, they’re not referring to an insurance policy. In a Roper Starch poll for the Insurance Research Council, 35 percent of U.S. adults said it’s “all right to exaggerate insurance claims” to make up for a deductible. And 24 percent believe it’s OK to pad claims “to make up for insurance premiums paid when no claims were made.”
You’d expect a state’s economic-development ads to conceal the fact the place is falling apart. But Mississippi turns its rural decrepitude to advantage in luring film production to the state. With ingenuity like this, the state could soon afford to fix itself up. The Ramey Agency of Ridgeland created the piece for the Mississippi Film Office in Jackson.
Does public fealty to the First Amendment signal a bedrock of support for commercial speech? Don’t bet on it. Polling conducted for the Freedom Forum’s First Amendment Center finds ambivalence about free speech in general. Fifty-one percent of those polled said the press has “too much freedom.” Two-thirds said remarks offensive to racial groups should not have First Amendment protection; 53 percent said the same of speech offensive to religious groups. And a catchy tune doesn’t help: 40 percent said musicians should not be permitted to sing offensive songs in public.
Yes, it seems like only yesterday that Lewis and Clark began their trek through the West. In fact, though, the bicentennial is coming up, and people in Bozeman, Mont., wanted to get a head start in marking the event. Hence the poster with the explorers in jog-trotting silhouette. (Dietitians may quibble with the notion of bison and elk as carbo-loading fare.) Mercury Advertising of Bozeman created the piece.
How complex should a TV spot be? You don’t have to watch much tube to see plenty of commercials that are incomprehensible, even if you’re paying full attention. But chances are you’re not. As summarized in an article by inside.com, a Viacom/MTV Networks study found multitasking is common among viewers. The study learned “consumers are using personal computers 20 percent of the time they’re watching television. The figure is higher when it comes to reading magazines (34 percent) or newspapers (31 percent).” Is such a semi-attentive audience likely to catch a message that relies on nuance and irony?
Elsewhere on the confusion front, a survey of “average investors” by New York-based Doremus Advertising found many have mistaken ideas of what some Fortune 500 companies do. For instance, the 10 percent who knew Halliburton is an energy outfit barely outnumbered the 9 percent who thought it was in the “fish industry.” While 20 percent knew Praxair deals in industrial gasses, 50 percent said it was an airline. (With brand equity like that, maybe Praxair should start an airline.) Sixty percent knew Caterpillar makes construction and farm equipment, but 10 percent thought it was a pet company. Makes you wonder what sort of pets those people have.
At last, a commercial addresses Americans’ secret terror: the fast-food drive-thru. HabituEs get the hang of it, presumably. But for those of us who drive thru once in a while, it’s a harrowing process as we speak to inert signs, offer payment to the person at the wrong window, begin driving away before getting all our food, etc. BK will win gratitude for promising a drive-thru redesigned “to make your experience totally relaxing and stress-free.” In the spot, via Lowe Lintas & Partners in New York, a father takes his fussy baby to the drive-thru because it’s so soothing–and is soothed to sleep himself. We may not buy any more burgers than we did before the new-and-improved system was devised. But BK’s acknowledgment that the old-and-unimproved process was stressful will do wonders for our self-esteem.

THEY BUY: Tracking the Behavior Of Seniors in Cyberspace
The Web isn’t just for young folks, despite the relentlessly youthful tone of dot-coms’ advertising. Research by Greenfield Online confirms that the 55-plus crowd has taken to the Internet in a big way. Among “surfing seniors,” 89 percent have bought something online. Software, books and CDs/tapes are the seniors’ leading purchase categories. Sweepstakes and contests are especially popular with this cohort: 90 percent have tried one. Seventy percent go online to get weather reports. Online pharmacies have yet to catch on with the seniors. Among those who’ve visited one, just 33 percent have made a purchase (up from 27 percent a year ago). Only 21 percent intend to do so again, largely because of complications involving acceptance of medical insurance.

WALKING RISK FACTORS: No Wonder Men Die Much Younger Than Women
Men are a dissolute lot (at least when compared to women), and your tax dollars have been at work to prove it. A new bulletin from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (analyzing data from 1996 and ’97) documents the gender gap in some behavioral “health risk factors.” None of it is particularly flattering for the lads. For starters, men were more likely than women to be overweight (62 percent versus 44 percent). They’re far more likely to engage in “chronic drinking” (5 percent versus 1 percent) and in “binge drinking” (22 percent versus 7 percent). This helps explain why men are three times as likely as women (3 percent versus 1 percent) to admit they drink and drive. Nor are men necessarily counting on their seat belts to save them: 62 percent of men, versus 75 percent of women, always buckle up when driving. The dissolution gap is relatively small when it comes to cigarette smoking, though men (25 percent) have a higher rate than women (21 percent). One of the few respects in which women lead less healthy lives than men: 31 percent of women and 26 percent of men engage in no “leisure-time physical activity.” In light of the other data, though, one fears the men count 12-ounce curls as exercise. As if all this weren’t enough to doom men, they’re a shade more likely than women (15 percent versus 14 percent) to lack health insurance.

KID STUFF: Where Should Mothers Be These Fat-and-Happy Days?
“It is better for children if one parent works outside the home while the other parent stays home with the children?” A nationwide Los Angeles Times poll asked people whether they agree with that statement. Men were in agreement by a landslide (76 percent). But women were, too, with 71 percent saying it’s better for the kid to have a stay-at-home parent. And are women “better mothers” if they stay home or if paid work makes them “happier and fulfilled”? A plurality of men (48 percent) said staying home is better. A plurality of women (44 percent) said the working-but-fulfilled route is better, but nearly as many (37 percent) said stay-at-homes are better mothers. Meanwhile, an online poll on the Parent Soup Web site found 49 percent of respondents saying it’s “wrong” for a mother to work outside the home when “money isn’t an issue.” Are attitudes shifting? Newsweek’s Jane Bryant Quinn notes a “rising proportion of young women appear to be choosing motherhood over career” and gives a theory on why that’s so. “It’s one of prosperity’s side effects.” The booming economy has driven up young men’s wages, making a second income a choice rather than a necessity for more households. We can surmise that this has a double effect: Some mothers seize the chance to stay home; and bystanders feel freer to be critical of mothers who go off to work, since it’s now less obvious that necessity is driving them to do so.

PRIVATE LIVES: Maybe Most of Us Aren’t Exhibitionists After All
Remarking on the Supreme Court’s latest Miranda decision, a recent op-ed piece in The New York Times said the right-to-remain-silent warnings often make little difference. Why? Because suspects can’t wait to blurt out their guilty secrets to an attentive audience. It makes them feel as if they’re on a daytime talk show. Nor are such tendencies confined to the criminal portion of the population. You need only view one of the surreal “reality-based” shows to see people who are eager to vent their private predilections in prime time. Has reticence fallen into desuetude among Americans in general? Yankelovich polling for CNN and Time suggests otherwise. Respondents were asked whether they’d allow a reality-based show to film them doing various things. As you’d guess, few would be willing to be filmed having sex (5 percent) or while naked (8 percent). But fewer than one in three (31 percent) would even let the cameras catch them in their pajamas. Only 29 percent would let a TV camera see them kissing. In a telling sign of current attitudes toward excessive drinking, just 16 percent would permit themselves to be filmed while drunk. A mere 10 percent would consent to being filmed while eating a rat or an insect. But then, few people would care to dine on such fare even when the cameras aren’t rolling.

THIS IS A SLOWDOWN?: Adding Up the Ads for Jobs
How do you describe the market for jobs in advertising, marketing and media after a month in which four regions posted double-digit gains? Compared to the spectacular numbers of earlier months, it brings the word “slowdown” to the lips of Adweek-classifieds aficionados. By any normal measure, the volume of help-wanted ads running in Adweek last month bespeaks a brisk job market. Still, the pace of dot-com hiring looked slower than in prior months, reflecting the broad correction in valuation of Internet enterprises.