The New Independents: Marketing to the Single Adult

Filed Under: Best Practices, Market Research, Generations, Quantitative Research, Segmentation


Dave Mastrofski

Vice President, Quantitative Research

It wasn’t too many years ago in my agency life that I was helping edit a communications brief for an upcoming new business pitch. Our potential client was a vacuum cleaner company. I remember noticing that every paragraph in the brief describing the target and the target’s mindset started with the same word: “She.”

Can you remind me again who “she” is, I asked. It was explained that the target audience was a female head-of-household, age 35-49, married, with children. The idea, of course, was that the people who were most likely to buy this awesome new vacuum device were going to need it to clean up after their messy husbands, kids and family pets, so she could feel like an accomplished mom.

Made sense to me.

We finished the brief; and over the next several years, multiple marketing plans and ad campaigns for the brand were built – all with “her” in mind. In fact, it’s hard to remember a time when any of our marketing plans or briefs at the agency didn’t begin with the assumption that the most opportune head of household target was always married. And usually female. And quite often with kids.


Flash forward to September 2014. Maybe you saw the media splash that month that occurred after the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that for the first time in our national history, the number of adults who were single outnumbered those who were married. It hadn’t happened overnight – the proportion of singles had been ticking upward a point or two every year since the Bureau began reporting the statistic in 1976 – but the tipping point had finally been reached, and 50.2% of adults now reported themselves as single.

In light of this news, a few questions dawned on us, the biggest being: If 50 percent of the population is single, then why does it seem like 100 percent of marketing efforts are targeted toward married people? Was it possible that marketers were just going with the same conclusion that they always had – that 30-50 year old adults were in a married household of 4.2 people? If so, could they have lost sight of the evolution of an important untapped majority of consumers?

Our agency client, TPN, it seems, has a gift for being psychic. In that same week, they called and wanted to discuss fielding new research because they had been incubating the very same trend. If we could validate this theory, they realized, then there were overflowing opportunities to address the needs of single households, and they could help their existing and prospective client base be first to market in doing so. From independent research they commissioned, TPN estimated that just the subset of singles age 35-54 represented $567 Billion in annual spending power. We marveled that that figure was larger than Millennials’ spend in 2014-more than 11 Black Fridays; or (my favorite) roughly the GDP of Sweden.

We were eager to help. Over the next ten months, C+R and TPN jointly launched an in-depth, multi-phase, qualitative and quantitative study among single and coupled adults. Our overarching goal was to shed light on opportunities that could be realized by decoding the characteristics that differentiate single adults from their coupled counterparts in the marketplace.

We got a wealth of information from the study, not only about the raw potential of marketing to single adults, but also about a distinct set of key misconceptions about them that marketers – and even researchers (!) – fall into when characterizing what singles could mean to brands. Further, we also began a proprietary analytic blueprint for understanding the behavioral and emotional triggers of consumer categories to determine exactly where and how forward-thinking brands could step into “singles’ blind spots” and leverage the power of Households of One.

Over the course of the next few months, we look forward to sharing some of our most interesting findings from the study. In the meantime, feel free to download TPN and C+R’s first co-published white paper on this topic: Millions of Singles, Billions of Dollars: The Rise of the New Independents, which contains much more detail about the study and the opportunity at stake.

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