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Bye, Bye Single Supplement! Adweek Proclaims the Power of One

Advertising matters, and not just for the products

Except around April 15, the singles penalty I hear about most often has nothing to do with taxes. Instead, singles tell me about all the many ways they pay more per person than married people do for health insurance, club memberships, car insurance, professional membership fees, and of course, just about everything related to travel. The "single supplement" usually comes in for special scorn.

Well, the week of good news (here and here) is continuing. A big story in Adweek (a leading trade magazine in the advertising industry, one of my brothers tells me) is titled "The Power of One" and begins with reports of cruise lines that are offering solo travelers their own rooms, with no extra charge.

A key theme of the story is that singles are a huge demographic, yet they are mostly ignored by advertisers and marketers. In a way, it could be a good thing if professionals are spending less of their time trying to separate singles from their money, or trying to lure them into buying stuff they don't want and don't need.

But I do care about the neglect or misrepresentation of singles for other reasons. When ads or greeting cards or anything else are written in the language of couples ("We wish you a happy birthday!"), singles are rendered invisible. Writing singles out of the script is a way of saying that the 104 million unmarried Americans do not really exist, or do not actually matter.

When singles are considered inconsequential, then they get the bad deals, such as the single supplement and the supermarket "specials" that offer you lower unit prices for giant-sized portions.

Of course, I also deplore the many ways that singles are pitied, mocked, and otherwise dissed in ads, as I described here. Those kinds of ads reinforce stereotypes and caricatures, and deserve to be mocked mercilessly (here's a great example of a parody).

Here are some highlights from the Adweek story (other relevant links are in the story):

  • Single people contribute $2.2 trillion to the economy. (That's up from the $1.6 trillion figure, which was the most recent estimate available when I was researching Singled Out.)
  • Among those cruise lines setting aside the single supplement are some doing so "without turning the ship into the Love Boat." That's a real step forward for the advertising and marketing industries to realize that not all singles are seeking to become unsingle.
  • Retailers such as Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma, Crate & Barrel, and Target are not limiting their gift registries to weddings and baby showers. They include birthdays, graduations, and housewarmings, too. (Again, my own goal here is not to urge singles to become as gift-seeking as newlyweds, but instead to encourage society at large to recognize that there are other important events in adult lives other than getting married and having children.)
  • Whereas home buying among married couples has dropped from 1987 to 2009, it has increased among single women. (It's stayed the same for the men.)

My one disappointment with the story: Toward the end, it perpetuates the stereotype that singles are self-centered, don't sacrifice, and spend all of their money on themselves. I took apart that claim, with data, in this post as well as in Singled Out.