AMERICANS FEEL IN CONTROL

IN A MARKETING SURPRISE, LIFESCAPES POLL FINDS TOP CONCERNS ARE AIRPLANES, IRS

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If yuppie was the buzzword of the '80s, then control may be the most overused language of the '90s. For all the hysterical headlines about a nation out of control -- and advertising serving it as the Holy Grail -- Americans say they feel very much in control.

An astonishing 88% of respondents to the first Lifescapes poll conducted Sept. 28-29 through American Dialogue on America Online for Advertising Age say that, on the whole, they feel in charge of their lives. Fewer than one in nine feels he or she is often out of control.

Campaigns like BMW's "You can handle it" may be misreading the market.

Ninety-one percent of respondents feel their neighborhood is safe. And five times as many people worry about their financial security as their physical safety.

Eighty-three percent fret about money while just 15% are concerned about harm coming to them. More than three out of four (75.4%) believe that if they were to scream for help, someone would come to their aid.

Amazingly, two-thirds of respondents feel that they have more control over their problems than most characters on TV.

People admit, of course, that they can't control everything.

The hardest thing to control for 38.5% is their weight, while 32.3% say they wrestle most with their spending. Just 10.8% say the hardest thing to control is their anger; 16.9% pinpoint their fears; and 1.5% their smoking, drinking or drug use-or abuse.

Where do people feel most out of control?

Perhaps it has something to do with the crash of the USAir jet last month, but more of us are queasy on a plane than anywhere else. Forty percent say they feel less secure there than in a car, elevator, home or workplace-even if it's a U.S. Post Office or fast-food outlet, locations where shootings have occurred.

About an equal number of people feel out of control in an elevator (27.7%) and in a car (26.2%). Just over half-53.8%-of workers feel they have job security.

People feel more in control in their boss' office than they do in their doctor's office or a dental chair. But the heart starts beating and adrenaline pumping in a courtroom. A third of the respondents (32.3%) say they feel little control here.

Fewer than four in 10 respondents (38.5%) feel that if they were falsely accused of a crime, the judicial system would find them innocent. How much of this is related to the intense media coverage of O.J. Simpson? And if a marketer wants to telegraph out-of-controlness, he might want to set the scene at the Internal Revenue Service. Almost half (43.1%) of respondents say they feel least control at the IRS.

Americans would feel more in control on a deserted rural road than they would at an exclusive and intimidating country club. But those situations are far more comforting than finding oneself in a non-English speaking country. More than a third of us (36.9%) say we'd feel least in control on alien soil, while 43.1% would be out in orbit on an inner-city street corner.

We may buy rap, but give us picket fence security.

What do people do to increase their sense of control?

Almost 5% own a gun. Six percent have invested in a big, fierce looking dog. Fifty-seven percent buy organizer products, and almost a third-a devout 29.2%-pray. Virtually no one says they imbibe booze or pop tranquility pills. Who, then, is taking Prozac?

But 5% take their feelings of powerlessness out on someone even less powerful: they dominate subordinates.

They also angle to take charge. Ninety-one percent say they'd prefer to be the person who takes charge in an emergency situation. Yet only 81.5% are likely to be captain.

The odds rise for the wealthy.

More than half of us-55.4%-think that the most in-control people in our society are the rich. That's more than twice the number of people (21.5%) who think politicians have the most control. Twice as many people (6.2% vs. 3.1%) feel criminals have more control than doctors.

Who has too much control?

Almost half the respondents -- 44.6% -- say religious leaders have too much control, followed by conservatives (41.5%) and white men (36.9%). Only 6.2% think women have too much control.

Fifty-four percent of participants in the non-scientific poll were male. Respondents ranged in age from their early 20s to about 50 and had a typical income of $45,000. Virtually all were employed or were students.

Judging by this Lifescapes poll, Americans are far more confident and comfortable than marketers would have us believe.

Just 10.8% worry about how they look, 15.4% about whether people like them and 27.7% about whether they're a good person. Half-46.2%-say none of this troubles them.

Yes, most people would like to have slightly more control than they actually do. (On a scale of 1 to 10, 8.46 was the average desired; 7.03 was the average actual control.) But the difference is, frankly, too small to fret over-or to build a marketing scheme around.

Methodology

The first Lifescapes poll was conducted, tabulated and analyzed in 24 hours based on 32 questions, 29 multiple choice and three that asked for a short response.

The questions asked people to rate situations in which they felt most and least in control.

Placed by Advertising Age on America Online Sept. 28, the survey used the first 100 e-mail reponses, is non-scientific and has no margin of error. For each completed questionnaire, $1 was donated to a charity.

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