Packaged Facts: Marketers Missing the Boat on Mature Singles

Quick: Name an ad campaign that's specifically geared to single adults in their 40s or beyond.

Not easy. Amid the increasing emphasis on serving Baby Boomers, marketers seem to be behind the curve in addressing the growing number of their single brethren.

Half of all U.S. households are now headed by unmarried adults, 43% of all singles are 45 or older (one quarter are Baby Boomers), and nearly two-thirds of single women are 35 or older.

And contrary to what one would guess based on their absence in advertising, mature singles have significant discretionary income and a broad range of interests, confirms a new study on the U.S. singles market from the Packaged Facts division of

Nor are they just buying anti-aging cosmetics and incontinence products. Single Boomers are particularly interested in experience-oriented travel, luxurious personal care products and spas, and mind-body services, as well as products for their grandchildren.



Single Boomers ages 45 to 54 are as likely to use online dating services as 18- to-24-year-olds, and nearly half of those in this age group are interested in starting a new business.

Next to married adults, single women are the largest group of home buyers. Last year, they accounted for a record high of 22% of all home sales, versus 9% for unmarried men.

Yet, most marketing to singles is not only geared to the 18- to-24-year-old cohort but intent on depicting all of them as thin, urban-dwelling, and childless and focused on their appearance.

Campaigns that address older adults tend to focus on married couples--clear evidence that marketers are "missing the boat," concludes PF.

In truth, mature single women prefer to be portrayed spending time with friends and family--especially with several generations of family--and singles are now inclined to view their unmarried state as a choice, rather than a temporary and undesirable situation.

Thanks to Suze Orman, the financial sector has begun addressing mature single women, but there's little sign of movement within other categories, notes Laura Ries, principal in the branding consultancy Ries & Ries. "Many marketing plans are still being developed by 50-plus, married men who have a stereotypical view of singles as lonely people desperate to get married," she says.

Even more important, not enough marketers are willing to focus on a specific demographic. "It's always better to target someone rather than anyone, and one generation's brand is rarely another generation's brand," Ries stresses. "But most companies aren't willing to 'sacrifice' the entire possible universe for a product in order to focus on developing and appropriately marketing generation-specific products and brands."

A positive exception, she notes, is Toyota, which developed the Scion specifically for younger consumers, keeping the Toyota and Lexis brands for the mid and high-end markets.

Some key points about singles and marketing best practices from the study:

Singles are twice as likely as married adults to have gone to bars, nightclubs or out dancing in the past year. (Interestingly, single parents are just as likely as childless singles to have engaged these activities.) They're also into taking classes, making art or playing music, attending performing arts events and engaging in sports offering a social component, such as billiards, bowling and ice or inline skating.

They're more likely to describe themselves as "TV addicts" and are particularly hooked on cable shows. They buy and read more magazines, attend and rent more movies, and are more receptive to TV and movie theater advertising than marrieds.

Single parents are particularly open to marketing and advertising in any medium and are the heaviest adult users of traditional radio, Internet radio and cable music stations. But childless singles are also quite open to marketing: Nearly half say that ads help them learn about products that are available, for example.

Nearly three quarters (73%) of singles are online. Singles are more likely than marrieds to use the Net for social and entertainment functions but are less likely to buy online. Therefore, using entertainment-oriented promotions and games to promote off-line purchases can be particularly effective.

Marketers looking to target singles with children should show their lives in a realistic but positive light and make messaging clear and informative. Use of a wide variety of media is recommended, including short TV and radio ads supplemented with more detailed information online and in print. Include an interactive component, and remember that single parents are hooked into their kids' entertainment, including TV, movies and games.

Marketers looking to appeal to childless singles should consider strong event marketing, sponsorship and street promotion elements. Generation Y singles are best reached through viral efforts, while Boomers respond to more traditional media, albeit with untraditional messages. Boomers also want special treatment in sales and service transactions. Use positive messaging that shows singles engaging with friends and family.

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