Mark Dolliver’s Takes

a mortality tale: Looking to Our Fellow Man as a Cause of Death
You can’t keep a good crime down. Although the murder rate dropped sharply during the ’90s, Americans are confident it will stage a comeback. So we learn from a Harris Poll issued under the catchy title, “What Will People Die Of in the Future?” Asked whether various sorts of mortality will kill more or fewer Americans than at present, 70 percent of respondents put gun violence in the “will kill more” column, versus 25 percent saying it “will kill less.” Similarly, 68 percent foresee an increase in homicides, versus 27 percent anticipating a decrease. Auto accidents (68 percent “more,” 28 percent “less”) elicited a similar response. Amid these morbid expectations, though, Americans predict less death from some major diseases. While 27 percent said breast cancer will kill more victims,
70 percent said it will kill fewer. As for diabetes and prostate cancer, “less” beat “more” by 65 percent to 29 percent; stroke posted a margin of 53 percent to 39 percent. The tally was closer for heart attack, but “less” (51 percent) still edged out “more” (45 percent). The only exceptions to this optimism were lung cancer (46 percent “less,” 50 percent “more”) and AIDS (34 percent “less,” 63 percent “more”). Analyzing the data, Harris hypothesizes that “people have much more faith in science and medicine than in society (or government) or human nature.” It’s tempting to respond with a heartfelt, “and well they might.” But Harris also notes that respondents’ answers are partly at odds with the direction of public-health data. For instance, while respondents were relatively untroubled about diabetes, the national rise in obesity is likely to bring an “epidemic” of that malady. Meanwhile, the fear of automotive death runs counter to data showing a steep drop in fatalities per miles driven. In short, the pattern of hopes and fears might simply indicate “that the public is remarkably uninformed about real health risks.”
weighing in: Would You Rather Be Richer or Thinner?
Public opinion doesn’t always jibe with the public’s behavior. Here’s a case where it does. A survey conducted for Adweek by Alden & Associates of Hermosa Beach, Calif., posed the question: If you had your choice, would you choose to be richer or thinner? “Richer” won in a landslide, with 75.8 percent of the vote. And that’s as it should be in a society where net worth and net weight have been rising. In theory, there must be a point along the obesity/prosperity chart at which the yearning for svelteness trumps the yearning for more money. But we’re not there yet. On that score, it’s telling the survey found no disparity in opinion along income lines. There was, though, a gender gap, with 28.8 percent of the women opting for thinness, while 17.6 percent of the men had that preference.
get a job: Poor Richard vs. Rich Bill
He wasn’t as rich as Bill Gates, but he had better press. Anyway, Ben Franklin stands higher in the esteem of today’s teenagers. A poll of 12-17-year-olds by the Lemelson-MIT Program of Cambridge, Mass., found Franklin winning a plurality of the vote (39 percent) when teens were asked to pick “the inventor or innovator they feel has changed the world the most.” Thomas Edison ran second (34 percent), followed by Gates (28 percent) and Alexander Graham Bell (25 percent). As you can see from the chart below, the role of inventor exerts more appeal for boys than for girls. These findings will distress those who regard any gender gap as evidence of discrimination. Others will be relieved that girls and boys have not been browbeaten into wanting exactly the same things. A separate study by Opinion Research Corp. examined the motivations behind teens’ career choices. As summarized on the WorldOpinion Web site, it found “making a lot of money” to be the leading factor, cited by 48 percent of the teens surveyed. “Working with people I like” ran second (46 percent), followed by “having a chance to travel” (42 percent). Just 14 percent of the teenagers were most strongly influenced by the “contribution that could be made to society.”
mixed blessings: Natural Born-Again Killers, From Bowl to Web, Etc.
It’s a shocking departure from accepted norms of fashion advertising. Benetton’s “We, on Death Row” advertising supplement to Talk magazine features page after page of people who (brace yourself) read the Bible! Of the 26 individuals featured, no fewer than 10 speak of their religious faith. A spread goes so far as to show one of them holding a Bible. Oh yes, they’re also murderers. But that’s nothing special. After all, an outlaw sensibility is among the well-worn clichƒs of fashion advertising. To exhibit death row residents rather than self-consciously transgressive bad boys and femmes fatales is merely a difference of degree. But this religious effusion is quite another matter. If Benetton’s 100-page effort fares well in the marketplace, will we be subjected to ads in which supermodels name their best-loved scriptural passages? (One of the convicts cites Ecclesiastes as his favorite book of the Bible, while another is partial to Matthew and Romans.) Will papal homilies become required reading for fashionistas? (The Talk outsert quotes not one but two sermons by John Paul II.) Considering the imitative nature of advertising, Benetton’s opus could portend a death sentence for the secularism we expect from our high-style magazines. Actually, I’m not panicking yet. Something tells me chic advertisers will shun religion unless (as Benetton did) they can confine it to an unsavory context.
You’re watching the Super Bowl and a spot catches your eye. What do you do about it? A pre-Bowl survey by Baltimore-based Eisner Communications asked the question, and it found 3 percent of respondents saying they’d “visit the Web site right away.” On the opposite end of the spectrum, 53 percent would “do nothing.” Falling between those extremes were 14 percent who’d “write down the Web site address,” 28 percent who would “visit the Web site later” and 10 percent who’d “learn more about the Web site from other sources.” Among other findings from the survey: 8 percent said they’ll tune into the telecast just to see the commercials. And 35 percent expect to discuss specific spots the day after the game.
Elsewhere on the football front, the regular season ended with the now-traditional firings and resignations of coaches whose teams did poorly. For the enterprising folks at, this was an opportunity. Addressing Mike Ditka, Ray Rhodes and others who’d abruptly fallen from the coaching ranks, an ad for the Web site had a helpful message: “Waiters, busboys, delivery people, clerks, telemarketers, bell hops; take your choices, guys.” Ryan Drossman Marc USA of New York created the piece.
Are today’s media-savvy teens impervious to ads? Not according to research conducted by the Zandl Group of New York. When teens were asked whether they’d bought particular items because of advertising they saw, more than half of them could cite an example. That was especially true of the apparel/footwear category, with 23 percent of girls and 18 percent of boys saying ads moved them to buy such items. Ads for personal-care products were effective among girls (18 percent), while boys were susceptible to advertising in the entertainment category (15 percent).
Honors this week for Best Resuscitation of a Clichƒ Once Left for Dead go to an ad for a North Carolina restaurant called The Cutting Board. Who’d have thought one could do something fresh with the old saw about standing behind your work? Along with being funny, the headline emphasizes that the food in this independent eatery is actually cooked–not just defrosted-then-heated, as tends to be the case at the chain restaurants with which The Cutting Board competes. West & Vaughan of Durham, N.C., created the piece.
Do Americans believe change is good? Not the kind that wears out their pockets. A survey commissioned by Coinstar Inc. of Bellevue, Wash., found 68 percent of Americans would rather have a $50 bill than $55 in loose change. When asked to choose the $50 bill or $65 in change, one-third of respondents still preferred the lesser amount. In further evidence of public disdain for the jingly stuff, 34 percent said they rarely count the coins they get as change in a cash transaction to make sure they’ve been given the correct amount