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I noticed it a few months ago: the pop-up ads on my mobile applications seemed to know I was single, and they wanted me to do something about it. Every time I made a move on Words With Friends — the popular Scrabble-inspired Smartphone app that allows both friends and strangers to polish their word powers — I’d be rewarded with an ad for Zoosk, aka the world’s largest online social dating community. How did they know? I wondered with paranoia. Were the advertising gods trying to tell me something? Not quite. A quick survey of friends and Vertical Marketing Network colleagues confirmed those Zoosk ads are raining down like snowflakes in Switzerland, and apparently for good reason. “Never-married single people ages 25 to 34 now outnumber the married crowd by 46 percent to 45 percent,” according to a recent Ad Age article. Brandweek reports on another study from Packaged Facts conducted in 2007 that breaks down this demographic further and suggests the single market wrongly skews young: 57 percent of singles are under the age of 45, 40 percent are younger than 35, and 25 percent of singles are estimated to be baby boomers. In essence, the single demographic is tougher to pigeonhole, and therefore possibly harder to target. But that shouldn’t stop businesses from trying. Smart brands in markets ranging from fast food to real estate to travel and leisure have found singles have an attractive advantage over their partnered counterparts: whatever their age, singles consumers have excess money to spend and studies show they do, they do, they do.
Maybe I’m just blogging out loud, but it seems like smart brands should make an effort to court The New Single. Whether a traditional twenty-something, divorced, or part of the growing number of later life-stage singles, opportunities abound to engage this complicated demographic, and not just with dating services.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2008, singles spent $2.2 trillion, roughly 35 percent of total consumer spending and a 30 percent increase from 2003 (slightly above the average for all households). The BLS also reports that in 2009, singles of all ages spent a higher share of income on alcoholic beverages, clothing, shoes and tobacco products compared with other households, but less on housekeeping supplies and insurance. The Packaged Facts study concluded later life-stage singles to be “a lucrative and receptive market for a variety of products,” and argued that singles under 45 are more receptive to ad pitches and spend more time online: 11 percent of singles spend less time sleeping because of Internet use, compared with 7 percent of married Web users. In other words, singles are there for the courting. So the question becomes: How do marketers target singles without exploiting the thing that makes them unique: their relationship status? Smart brands such as Coldwell Banker, McDonald’s and Norwegian Cruise Line have all launched campaigns that mingle well with singles. Coldwell Banker, for example, uses its YouTube Channel to target the 21 percent of new home buyers comprised of single women. Norwegian Cruise Line (as well as other luxury liners who quickly followed suit) now offers single-occupancy rooms aboard its ships, and The Love Boat it ain’t. Perhaps most inspiring, though, are commercials like the ones we’ve seen from McDonald’s, which portray single people as no different from you and, well, me. Speaking to Brandweek about of the challenges of marketing to such a broad and thus complicated demographic, Nicky Grist, the executive director of the Alternatives to Marriage Project, concedes:
“Unmarried people are not really an identity group…There’s not a scorecard for issues and the experience of being unmarried can be very, very different depending on who you are. Some are happily never married, some are desperate to find a soul mate, some are divorced or widows. There’s not a single identity that’s easy to speak to or send coded messages to the way there might be for other groups.”
That, of course, shouldn’t stop businesses from creating products, line extensions and services that make sense for both the brand and consumer. Think about size, think about scale, think about safety. Think about the specific needs and/or lifestyle issues for the single consumer. Consider the ordinary girl or guy to be just as likely a customer as those who’ve tied the knot. Is there an opportunity to single out this potentially profitable population?
Finding success with the single consumer simply requires brands acknowledging their needs go beyond finding a date. Not that I’m not thinking about it…