Power of the single pound

Advertisers are missing a trick in focusing endlessly on couples. What about singletons with large disposable incomes and only themselves to spend it on? Ciar Byrne reports on research showing where their money goes
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The Independent Online

family sits down together for a meal; a couple takes off into the sunset in a car; a mum saves pennies at the supermarket - there are some clichés to which advertisers repeatedly return.

But marketers can no longer afford to ignore a significant chunk of the population who feel increasingly alienated by these "couplist" narratives, according to new research unveiled this week. Today, a whopping 38 per cent of all 16 to 64-year-olds are single, a figure set to grow by one fifth to 45 per cent of the UK adult population by 2010.

The media has long been fascinated by the "singleton", but until recently very little has been known about her, or his, habits.

Now the media agency Carat has conducted the first detailed research into the behaviour and attitudes of single people living in Britain. It has concluded that although being single is a positive lifestyle choice for many people, marketers are failing to cater for them, hence missing out on a lucrative opportunity to target a group whose lack of ties means they spend more money on themselves.

Between June and October 2005, Carat interviewed 4,000 people, backed up by additional information from a consumer survey of 10,000 people in the UK. The agency is now preparing to show the insights from this research to all major advertisers in the hope of convincing them to change their marketing strategies to appeal to single people.

"Advertisers default to norms, views and perceptions of British consumers that are clichéd and hackneyed," says Kate Rowlinson, Carat's head of communications strategy. "Our mission statement was to explore the complexity and diversity of modern Britons."

Singletons are not just Bridget Jones types - scatty thirtysomething women chasing after the wrong man. Defined by Carat as people who are single, divorced, widowed or separated and are not planning to have a baby, marry or live with their partner in the next 12 months, they span all ages, with a female bias, and the majority are happy to be alone.

Crucially, two thirds of singletons believe they have more money to spend on themselves and they rank well above the national average when it comes to buying the newest fashion brands and following the latest trends. Single people are more whimsical spenders than those in committed relationships, agreeing strongly with statements such as "I spend money without thinking" and "I buy things I don't need".

With marriage rates at an all-time low and divorce rates at a high, many people are choosing to live alone. Less than a quarter of singletons say they are actively seeking a partner, although men are twice as likely as women to be looking for a significant other.

When asked what one thing would improve their lives, only one in six said "finding a life partner", compared to a third who answered "a large sum of money", while 60 per cent believe that single people are as happy as couples. Upsides to being single include having more time to spend on hobbies (76 per cent), being more spontaneous (62 per cent) and having more close friends (53 per cent).

At moments, however, singletons do experience loneliness, particularly on Saturdays, at Christmas, on Valentine's Day and at New Year, when the media tend to focus on families and couples. This is the perfect opportunity to step in and forge an emotional relationship with single people, says Carat. Marketers could offer advertising-funded television strands aimed at singletons, or persuade single consumers to consider them as "mates" - a trick that Guinness and Marmite have already pulled off.

Products can be tailored to single people as part of an overall marketing strategy - for example Tesco promotes meals for one, while Goodfellas pizzas come in solo portions. Utility companies could address the resentment over household bills and council tax experienced by the 43 per cent of singletons that live alone by creating packages just for them. Travel firms could cater for those who resent having to pay a single occupancy supplement by providing more holiday options for singletons.

Many marketers make the mistake of believing that most single people are young, but the under 25s make up just 30 per cent of all singletons.

Carat has identified four distinct segments of singledom. "Social butterflies", aged 16 to 24, are youthful, free spirits, still finding their way in life, epitomised by celebrities such as Sienna Miller, Joss Stone and Prince Harry. There are currently 4.3 million people in this group, divided equally between the sexes, and they are expected to grow by 7 per cent to 4.6 million by 2010. Nearly three quarters still live with their parents and 90 per cent have never been married. They like to buy the latest fashions, enjoy working out and watching cult movies and admire brands such as Topshop and Gap.

"Achiever beavers" aged 25 to 34 with a female bias are making the most of their youth and choosing success at work over marriage. Currently consisting of 16 per cent or 2.3 million of single people, they are expected to grow a massive 35 per cent to 3.1 million by 2010. Summed up by Robbie Williams, David Walliams and Kate Moss, 36 per cent live alone and 83 per cent have never married. Their friends provide them with more support than their family; they are avid magazine readers and their favourite brands include Nivea, Diesel and Apple. Seven per cent have tried internet dating and 3 per cent have been speed dating. "They are looking for sex, not partners," says Michael Florence, the strategist who conducted the research.

Aged between 35 and 44 and predominantly female, "Pippa Pans" have accepted their single status and are concerned about getting old, making them keen to demonstrate their relevance to society. By 2010, this group, typified by Ulrika Jonsson and Renée Zellweger, is expected to grow from 2.7 million to 3.4 million. While more singletons in this age range are divorced or separated and have children, a significant 66 per cent have never married. Many are vegetarians and believe the world would be a better place if it were run by women, but few expect their finances to improve in the future. BT, Boots and Waterstones are among their preferred brands.

"Silvertons", single people aged between 45 and 64 who are expected to number 5.9 million by 2010, are happy with the world and their single status. Germaine Greer, George Clooney and Cliff Richard would fit into this group, 74 per cent of which live alone. Easily bored and interested in astrology, 69 per cent of silvertons are women and 38 per cent have never married. They admire Iceland, Woolworths and the Royal Mail and watch more television than couples of the same age.

On the website Carat has set up to showcase its research, www.singledom.co.uk, there is a quiz to find out if you are guilty of "couplism". Do you reply with a "we" rather than "I" when you accept invitations? Do you separate groups of friends into couples and singles and try never to mix them? Then perhaps it is time to look at singletons in a fresh light.