Most people spend some part of their adulthood as singles – as young adults bounding out of their parents’ homes or through circumstances, as divorced people or as widows and widowers.  Historically, being single was short-lived, but things are changing. 

The Facts

The US Census reports that over the past 25 years, the median age for first marriage has increased nearly 4 years for men to 27.1 and 5 years for women to 25.8.   Single-person households grew from 17% to 28% over the same time period.  And a small (9.2 million adults), but growing group is not marrying at all. 

Whether people are staying single longer or not marrying at all, dynamics leading to the growth of the single segment may include:

  • Greater economic achievement by women has freed them from needing to marry for financial stability
  • De-stigmatization of single parenthood, in fact 11.6 million single adults have children living with them (either through divorce or because they have chosen to have and raise children on their own)
  • Increasing acceptance of homosexuality has freed many gays from sham marriages
  • Marriage or partnering is not viewed as the only lifestyle option when you have reached a “certain” age

With these factors at play, how singles are currently marketed to (looking to be paired up) or not marketed to (mostly absent from marketing/communications efforts) needs to be reconsidered.  The group of singles we are spotlighting here might be a minority now but they represent an untapped consumer segment that could be a new source of opportunity for marketers of a wide range of products and services.

Dove, Volkswagen and Ikea (to name a few) demonstrate the value of intelligent engagement with newly uncovered consumer segments.  Dove celebrated the diversity of women by featuring “real women” in their successful Campaign for Real Beauty**Volkswagen and Ikea effectively reached gay/lesbian sensibilities with smart marketing.

New Singles Defined

For New Singles, singlehood is not a stop on the way to coupledom and/or wedded bliss, but rather a choice.  It may or may not have been planned at the outset of adulthood, but over time, single is now their chosen state of being.  Being single for this segment is a lifestyle, not merely a lifestage. 

While there are some people who have not necessarily chosen to be single, as noted in a highly touted September 2006 New York Times article highlighting the dilemma of middle-aged male high school graduates who are still seeking suitable life partners, others truly are “Single by Choice.”

In 1999, magazine publisher Sasha Cagen came up with the term “quirkyalone” on a Brooklyn subway platform on New Year’s.  Quirkyalone is a mindset, a movement which has grown into an international community and speaks to singledom as a celebrated option that is the equal of coupledom rather than solely something people back into.

She later expanded on this concept in an essay in the first issue of her magazine To-Do List which was republished in the Utne Reader in 2000.  Cagen was surprised by the fervor of responses from readers who felt their lives had been validated by her work.  As a result of these responses, Cagen opted to expand her essay into a 2004 book, titled Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics.

In 2006, social psychologist Bella DePaulo (PhD, Harvard) published Singled Out: How Singles are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After . Using social science data Dr. DePaulo challenged the stereotypes of people who are single.  In addition to offering seminars and workshops on the science of singlehood, Dr. DePaulo’s writings have appeared in professional journals and other publications. Her latest book, Single with Attitude (2009), is a compilation of essays that originally appeared in Living Single, Dr. DePaulo’s popular blog for Psychology Today and other writings which were first published in the Chronicle of Higher Education,, the Huffington Post, and the New York Times.

New Singles have even made its way into popular culture, reflecting the new reality of this segment.  According to the Urban Dictionary, Single by Choice is a person who does not wish to be in a relationship.  They value their independence and do not feel they need to have a boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife to gain validation.  People who are single by choice may  go out or date casually, but do not choose to be in a long term committed relationship.

In recent years, the blogosphere has become populated with optimistic and expansive perspectives on singles including Living Single, Singles by Choice, SingletudeMySingleSpace, to name a few.  And then there’s National Singles Week (also known as Unmarried and Single Americans Week) which was just celebrated (September 20-26).

The Opportunity

As with any other marketing niche, there might be targeted efforts to reach them, but, how they are portrayed, addressed and communicated to, are the most important elements to for an effective campaign.   To win with New Singles, here are some keys to bear in mind:

Messaging Key:  It is not enough to include single people in advertising.  Messaging and tonality needs to be uplifting, welcoming, even celebratory – remember New Singles enjoy rich, fulfilling lives.  They are at ease with their status and do not consider being single as an affliction.

Image Key:  It goes without saying, stay away from stereotypes.  New Singles are diverse.  They come in a range of demographic and socioeconomic flavors.  They don’t exist in a vacuum, they have family and friends.  New Singles live in urban centers and in the suburbs. You get the picture.   

Product Key:  New Singles are consumers of as vast an array of activities, products and services as the larger population, not just dating services or singles cruises.  They have homes and apartments that need furnishing, upgrading or repairing.  New Singles take vacations and dine out but only couples/families are promoted to.  They appreciate fine wines and champagne but half-bottles available on-premise are rarely found at retail.  New Singles need insurance to provide for themselves now and in the future, but families are the focus for most insurance products.  And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Value Key:  Clearly, having a better understanding of this segment is important to convey relevant New Singles values.  So remember to include this consumer mindset in the research process whether the focus is on new product development, branding or other marketing efforts.

Whether promoting restaurants, hotels, cruises, vacation destinations, insurance products, home furnishings or alcohol beverages, remember going solo is a chic and powerful choice. 

By stepping up to the plate with a plan that includes New Singles and is spot on attitudinally, marketers stand to gain substantial credibility and incremental market share among this untapped and sizeable consumer population.  Said another way, treating New Singles as a center of influence could pay huge dividends for your business!

**Read this marketing case study on the impact of Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty.