Report: Single Women Feel Unfairly Portrayed In Advertising And Media

Depicting them as baby-obsessed cliches or merely ignoring them, advertisers just don’t understand millions of American women today, according to a new report from Hill Holliday’s Origin and Match Media Group.

More than half of single U.S. women without children ages 30-45 (56%) surveyed as part of the study say they’re unfairly represented in TV/movies and 48% believe single, childless women are “non-existent” in advertising. 

The report examines how these women see themselves in advertising and media, their shopping and purchasing habits, and how they position themselves across social, professional, and dating profiles.

Only 20% consider marriage as their top priority. 

These women's top goals are living on their own (44%), establishing careers (34%), and achieving financial security (27%). Few (8%) cite kids as a key achievement. In fact, men are four times more likely than women to express in a professional setting that they want children. 



Still, advertisers don't understand their unique circumstances, per the report. The estimated purchasing power of U.S. women ranges from $5 trillion to $15 trillion annually, with women controlling more than 60% of all personal wealth. Women purchase over 50% of traditionally “male” products, including automobiles, home improvement products, and consumer electronics.

The study asserts that overt and subliminal messages from media, entertainment, and culture have elicited conflicting attitudes towards their self-esteem. "We found that these messages, while they may not inform how single women view themselves, do manifest in how single women present themselves to others," states the report. 

Most of those polled say they would not share their salary goals, specifically to make $75K or more annually in 10 years, on a dating (44%) or social (38%) site and 24% wouldn’t share their relationship status on a professional application. They are high-achieving, yet feel if they express these attitudes, they will alienate potential romantic partners. 

The study outlines key takeaways for advertisers in order to better engage these modern single women. First, they need to re-focus their preconceived notions about this audience. Independent (77%), confident (54%), and responsible (49%) are the key words used to describe themselves. Too much of today’s marketing tends to be family-centric.

Also, the report concludes there is a first-mover’s advantage for brands to get the messaging right to this group in crowded categories, especially in categories where single women are already active consumers. For example, women still buy vehicles, yet only 35% of women surveyed feel comfortable buying a car on their own. 

Travel ranks as the top personal priority for single women, yet only 26% are okay with traveling alone.
At the same time, financial security ranked as one of the top life milestones for single women, though a mere 11% say they are comfortable managing their own investments and stocks and few (7%) currently use a self-service investment tool.

The report also concludes that brands need to design a frictionless brand experience that acknowledges and respects single women in a modern way. Questions to consider include whether a brand’s marketing, packaging, or products discriminate against consumers based on marital status or life stage aspirations. Some mortgage companies, for instance, still require women to insert the word single when signing documents, whereas single males aren't required to include that descriptor. 

Most importantly, adult women currently make up roughly 12% of the U.S. population, but many brands pursuing this audience of consumers forget that not all adult women are married; and not all adult women have children. 

“Centuries ago, unmarried women over age 25 were considered a burden on their families, and were often shunned from social circles,” stated Lesley Bielby, chief strategy officer, Hill Holliday. “So, unless they were lucky enough to have the talent and drive of Jane Austen or Louisa May Alcott, faced a life of modest accomplishments and possible financial hardship. In 2018, this kind of bias has no place or relevance in modern culture." 

These findings will be presented at the Girl's Lounge on Thursday, June 21 at 12pm during the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity with a panel discussion that will include Karen Kaplan, chairman/CEO, Hill Holliday; Dr. Helen Fisher, senior research fellow, The Kinsey Institute and chief adviser,; Sophie Kelly, SVP of North American Whiskeys Portfolio, Diageo, and Shelley Zalis, CEO, The Female Quotient. 
The research was collected from over 1,200 adults ages 30+ in the United States. The full study is available here.


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