Useful Self Expression, Men And Disease, Etc.

When you say “self-expression,” some people will think of an art museum. But they are probably outnumbered by the folks who will get a mental picture of the checkout line at the Home Depot. Home improvement has become the preeminent locus of Americans’ creative impulses in the past decade or more, making this form of self-expression a mass phenomenon. A Yankelovich survey, summarized in one of the polling firm’s Monitor Minute bulletins, gives a picture of this. When asked to identify ways in which they express themselves, 41 percent of the respondents cited do-it-yourself projects, and 31 percent picked home redecoration. Also scoring well in the poll: cooking from scratch (39 percent) and gardening (37 percent). Fewer of the respondents pointed to such traditionally self-expressive activities as doing arts and crafts (24 percent). Overall, 46 percent of those polled said that expressing their creative side is very important to them. Let us quietly give thanks that they tend to do so through retiling their bathrooms rather than writing epic poetry.

Do you think there’s too little sex and violence on TV? If so, you likely resent polls that don’t even consider your viewpoint as a possibility. Typically, a recent Associated Press/ Ipsos Public Affairs poll asked adults whether they “think there is too much sex on television, or not.” Sixty-six percent said there is. A similar query about violence on TV found 68 percent of respondents saying there’s too much of it. The same poll sought an indication of people’s enthusiasm for downloading TV shows to portable devices like the iPod—for a price. As you can see from the chart below, a clear majority of adults have no interest in such a proposition at this juncture. Of course, that’s no guarantee consumers will remain uninterested if companies make more of an effort to sell them on the concept.

Some technologies sell briskly but then gather dust. The DVD player isn’t one of them. A study by The Barna Group finds that adults watch an average of 45 movies per year on their DVDs. While most of this viewing takes place in the home, “movies are increasingly being watched ‘on the go,’ using portable DVD players and laptop computers.”

How’s this as a selling point for a fast food: It won’t reduce the resale value of your car. Let me explain. A survey by Kelley Blue Book Marketing Research and Taco Bell finds that people underestimate the importance of a pristine interior to the resale value of their car. Given a list of 13 automotive attributes, respondents ranked stained seats as 10th in importance and stained carpets as 11th. But Kelley insists that a messy interior can knock thousands of dollars off the value of a vehicle when it goes to the used-car market. This has inspired Taco Bell (which derives the majority of its sales from the drive-thru window) to introduce an item dubbed the Crunchwrap Supreme, whose chief selling point is that you can eat it in your car without making an ungodly mess. That could give it an edge over burgers and fries, which a plurality of the poll’s respondents deemed “the messiest food they have eaten in their car.”

These are tough times for toys. A report by The NPD Group says retail sales of toys slid by nearly 4 percent last year, to $21.3 billion. Plush toys took the hardest hit, dropping by 15 percent, while games/puzzles fell 9 percent and dolls were off 2 percent. Some categories were thriving last year, though. Building sets fared best, gaining 16 percent. Also on the plus side were action toys/accessories (3 percent) and learning/exploration toys (6 percent). Meanwhile, a report by Packaged Facts foresees the infant/toddler/preschooler end of the toy market rising at a compound annual growth rate of 2.6 percent for the period 2006 through 2010. These gains will come partly from demand for “ultra-expensive status toys” on the part of upscale parents. My, won’t their kids be a joy for the rest of us to deal with!

It’s not that men are in favor of serious disease. They just take it less seriously than women do. That’s one finding to emerge from a poll by the National Consumers League in which adults were given a list of health conditions and asked to rate “how severely you think they threaten or compromise a patient’s quality of life.” Rating the maladies on a scale of 1 to 5 (with 1 the least consequential and 5 the most), women were consistently more apt than men to dole out 4’s and 5’s. The gap was small with respect to heart disease, as 84 percent of women and 80 percent of men scored it a 4 or 5. It was similarly small for Alzheimer’s (72 percent of women vs. 68 percent of men). But it widened considerably for diabetes (70 percent of women vs. 57 percent of men), chronic back pain (30 percent vs. 19 percent) and irritable bowel disease (25 percent vs. 18 percent). No wonder it’s harder to lure men to a doctor’s office.

Which professions do men claim as their own when trying to impress women? The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority gives clues in the latest commercial in its “happens here, stays here” series. In his effort to pick up women while visiting Las Vegas, the spot’s protagonist variously claims to be a neurosurgeon, a big-game hunter, a lumberjack, a lifeguard and a race-car driver. So, is the ad biz not glamorous enough to qualify for his lies? Actually, he does tell one woman he’s in the business—not as copywriter, art director or account executive, but as a “hand model.” A “Be Anyone” section of the tourism authority’s Web site encourages people to create their own bogus identities, and even provides fake printable business cards. Just don’t blame R&R Partners of Las Vegas, which created the campaign, if you get yourself into trouble.

Is life really slower in the boondocks, or do download speeds just make it seem that way? A study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project finds rural residents lagging behind city dwellers and suburbanites in their incidence of high-speed Internet access. “By the end of 2005, 24 percent of rural Americans had high-speed Internet connections at home, compared with 39 percent of adult Americans living elsewhere.” The report says the gap is narrowing, though. In 2003, 9 percent of rural Americans had broadband access, vs. 22 percent of people elsewhere. The continuing disparity reflects the fact that it’s expensive to wire sparsely populated areas for high-speed access, and wireless options have yet to take up the slack. Less high-speed access translates into less Internet usage by rural folk. One measure of this: 35 percent of the rurals go online several times a day, vs. 44 percent of urbanites and 43 percent of suburbanites.