John Aristotle Phillips admits that he lies to get what he wants. More precisely, Phillips says he sometimes lies when filling out those registration forms that pop up on the Internet, those informational tollbooths that demand personal data about you before admitting you to a Web site. Many Net surfers do the same, but in Phillips' case, the tactic takes on a bit of irony. His own company's Web site, www.aristotle.org, which does e-mailings for a variety of political candidates, ferrets out just such little white lies in a matter of seconds. Anyone who seeks to register with the site is asked to provide their name, birthdate, and Zip code, and that information is matched against Aristotle's huge database of registered voters, garnered from local election boards in more than 3,000 municipalities nationwide. Not only are fibbers denied access, but, as the warning at the bottom of the page points out, they may be liable to prosecution.
Since Phillips and his brother Dean founded Aristotle Publishing in Washington, D.C., in 1983, the company has occupied a profitable but rather arcane niche in the political world: writing and selling database software that helps public officials file forms with election boards and maintain constituent mailing lists. Two years ago, Aristotle started a new venture. The company set up a Web site and erected mailboxes on its servers for every name in its 138 million-name database. Web surfers interested in receiving political e-mail from various candidates and incumbents fill out a registration form at the site that activates their mailbox on the servers, and Aristotle acts as the middleman. Already, 1.3 million voters have signed up for the service, Phillips says, and he expects to have 2 million members by next year. Nearly half of Aristotle's current e-mail power is concentrated in California, where the company was hired to send out the state's 112-page voter-information pamphlet for the November elections in 1996.
Aristotle's true strength may not be just in numbers, however. Armed with each recipient's vital statistics-age, sex, Zip code, party affiliation, and voting frequency-Phillips can target precisely those voters a candidate wants to reach. A politician can send baby boomers information about her education platform, for example, and elderly voters an update on her commitment to Social Security. Just as important, says Phillips, Aristotle can excise those voters a candidate wants to avoid. "If you run abortion ads that are not targeted, you may be inviting people to strap on their Nikes and go vote against you," Phillips explains.
For politicians, e-mailers like Aristotle could take the Internet a giant leap toward relevance. "There is a huge canyon separating the political and the technological worlds today," says Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that publishes voter information on the Internet. "There are very few consultants who can bridge the two and show candidates how the Internet can connect them to voters. E-mail provides our best chance to return to grassroots campaigning." Strategists see the 1998 election as a defining year for Internet stumping: by 2000, the technology will be widespread enough to impact large numbers of voters. Now is the time to experiment in the comfort of relative obscurity, they say. Adds Robert Creamer, campaign advisor for Illinois Senator Carol Moseley-Braun and a half dozen other candidates: "With e-mail, you can send material that's visually quick and engaging-commercials, essentially."
The Phillips brothers have also built in an additional incentive for voters to sign up: Aristotle pays registrants 50 cents to 75 cents for every piece of e-mail they read. "The idea is to cut the individual in on the use of his name," says Phillips. With most junk mail, he points out, "the consumer doesn't get anything. We cut you in." Most candidates understand the value of this opt-in approach, says Alexander of the California Voter Foundation. "They realize that sending spam is sleazy, no matter what product you're trying to sell," she says. "They don't want their political message to be sandwiched between a get-rich-quick scheme and mail about free sex on the Internet."
Indeed, after a barrage of public criticism, California-based political consultant Robert Barnes scuttled his plan last June to send unsolicited political e-mail messages on behalf of several Democratic candidates just days before the state's primary. Instead, Barnes teamed up with Phillips and sent his Informed Voter Network's Democratic slate card to 350,000 of Aristotle's California members. Among those appearing on the slate card: Phil Angelides, Democratic candidate for state treasurer. An Angelides spokesperson says the campaign may send more e-mailings before this month's elections, but adds that it is too early to gauge its overall effectiveness. Phillips isn't surprised that his clients decline to comment about their use of this technology. "My clients are not interested in touting how sophisticated they are in targeting voters," he says.
Phillips says he has already done mailings for more than a dozen political contenders at an average cost of $20,000 per mailing. Each opened piece of political mail costs the candidate a dollar-about 10 percent less than what it would cost to send a piece of unsolicited mail by the U.S. Postal Service, according to Phillips. In return, he says, the candidate is guaranteed to beat a direct mailing that only an estimated 2 percent to 3 percent of the recipients will open. "Opt-in e-mail is more powerful," he says. "You get a 98 percent open rate because you are by definition operating with permission." In Internet culture, the idea of paying people to read their junk mail is not as odd as it sounds. Several services, like Hotmail and Bonusmail, offer consumers free e-mail or frequent-flyer miles just for reading commercial advertisements.
Giving Thanks It's no surprise that Thanksgiving is associated with turkey, but gobblers should lay low for the whole month after. Some 37 percent of Americans who eat their Christmas dinner at home eat turkey (according to Harry Balzer at NPD Group's National Eating Trends Service) while 23 percent traditionally eat ham. Another 25 percent forswear the fancy foods and chow down on a simple sandwich and 11 percent eat pasta. Another 10 percent eat a beef dish-most likely roast beef.
Turkey and cranberry sauce aren't the only Thanksgiving mainstays. If there's a run on flour in the supermarket, you'll know why. Four out of five American women-79.8 percent-say they bake for the holidays. Not all of that is from scratch. Some 66 percent of women and 59 percent of men confess they have used a mix to whip up made-from-scratch cakes or cookies, or have even bought a pie from the store and thrown away the telltale box. And despite its waist-expanding properties, 53 percent or 99 million Americans will drink eggnog this season. (That's one reason why most people say the holidays result in a seven-pound weight gain.)
But Thanksgiving is as much about shopping as it is eating-or expressing gratitude. It's the starting bell for holiday gift shopping. Almost half of Americans (46 percent) claim that as soon as the turkey is digested, they hit the malls and boutiques across the land. In most cases, their hearts may be as heavy as their stomachs. Some 62 percent say they'd rather clean the basement, work on their taxes, or visit the dentist than Christmas shop-while only 6 percent claim they actually enjoy the process. Nearly three out of five people (59 percent) say the worst aspect of holiday shopping is the crowds. Another 18 percent more strongly resent feeling forced to make purchases in a limited amount of time, while 11 percent are most bothered by the decorations and music, and 10 percent by the pressures to donate money to various charities and causes.
While Black Friday is the traditional time for people to start streaming into stores, almost a third (30 percent) claim they Christmas shop year-round. For another 12 percent, the Christmas rush begins as soon as back-to-school is over. Eight percent of Americans admit they procrastinate, leaving the shopping list to the last week or so.
Very few of us-3 percent-head to the store with a set shopping list. Some 37 percent shop entirely by impulse. More than half (57 percent) have a good idea of one or two different items that could fit the bill.
More than half of us plan ahead financially for the holiday season. Roughly one in four pays off all charges in January while 17 percent pay it off over the course of a year. More than half of holiday shoppers usually pay with a credit card, though 21 percent pay by check and 4 percent by debit card. Some 19 percent use cash.
One more thing that's big on Thanksgiving holiday season other than eating and shopping: drinking. And, alarmingly, one in four drivers admits to driving after drinking.