Single, Not SorryDecodings
The trend in marital status, called the biggest demographic shift since the Baby Boom, is not a temporary change in contemporary societies, but a permanent one.
In 2018, more than 50% of young Americans claimed to be single, a percentage that has increased sharply since 2004, when it stood at 33%. In the United States, 45% of adults are unmarried. In the United Kingdom, one-third of all households are composed of one person. In France, 18 million people are single.
In China, single women in the over-30 age group are culturally less accepted, but the country is seeing the emergence of a new generation of young women more interested in their work and professional ambitions than their marital status. In fact, the marriage rate has fallen by 30% in the last five years.
In his book “Going Solo”, the American sociologist Eric Klinenberg called the marital status trend the biggest demographic shift since the Baby Boom, considering it to mark a permanent, not temporary, change in contemporary societies.
The phenomenon is even more pronounced among women, many of whom are deliberately choosing the single life. As for brands, they are often heavy-handed in reaching out to this segment of the population, falling prone to the pitfalls of sexism and/or condescension.
The gap between the real life of independent women and how they are represented is highlighted in a survey by Hill Holiday/Origin in which 48% of single American women think that they are “non-existent” in advertising and 44% do not think they are fairly represented.
A cultural shift.
The status and perception of singlehood are changing. Stigmatization is on the decline thanks to new voices, new media and a younger generation that is unapologetic about being single and does not see “couplehood” as the ultimate in social status. This paradigm shift is due in large part to recent feminist and empowerment movements whose precepts have trickled down to influence pop culture worldwide. By way of an example, the U.S. television sitcom Parks & Recreation launched two special days, effectively relayed by social media: Galentine’s Day on February 13, presented as an alternative to Valentine’s Day for celebrating female friendships, and “Treat Yo Self ” Day.
In France, journalist Nadia Daam is determined to revolutionize attitudes towards singlehood and do away with stereotypes.
In England, the current literary sensation among Millennials is “What A Time To Be Alone”, a collection of essays dealing with self-love and personal development by the Instagrammer Childera Eggerue, an ardent proponent of body-positive thinking.
In the United States, single women are reading “All The Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation”(cf. NYT review) by journalist Rebecca Traister.
The societal changes arising from these new affirmations present disparities but may be found to a greater or lesser degree all over the world. While these changes may not be immediately perceptible, brands should anticipate and build them into their long-term strategy.In other words, brands need to update their understanding of this consumer segment, reevaluate their communication and adjust their market offering.
Pioneer brands navigating new terrain
A few brands have already taken the new paradigm and attitudes on board. Surprisingly enough, the dating app Tinder is one of the trail-blazers. In its latest communication campaign, Single Is A Terrible Thing To Waste, it played up all of the positive aspects of single life. Based on its consumer research and marketing savvy, the brand succeeded in conveying an offbeat, forward-looking message to which the target generation can relate.
Tinder has taken this communication strategy even farther by collaborating with the Homesick candle company on a Tinder Candle labeled “Single Not Sorry”. Just the thing for consumers looking for cool items flying the colors of singlehood!
For Valentine’s Day 2019, The RealReal, a pure player specialized in authenticated luxury consignment, rode the same wave. Its homepage featured a special selection of gifts under the tagline “No Partner? No Problem — Shop Valentine’s Gifts to Give Yourself”.
As part of an awareness-raising campaign, the Japanese cosmetics brand SK-II has released Meet Me Halfway, a short documentary exploring the social pressure on unmarried Chinese women, who find family New Year’s gatherings particularly trying because their marital status is the main subject of conversation.
The documentary tells the stories of three young women reaching out to their parents after years of avoiding them. The young women ask their parents to “meet them halfway”, both literally and figuratively, to try to get them to change their idea of marriage as a symbol of success. This short film is the third in the brand’s #changedestiny campaign, which registered over 18 million views within 24 hours. By getting the social media buzzing, it has paved the way for new representations of single women.
Beyond this positive, gratifying approach, this trend in favor of single-dom also ties in with the new priorities of the Millennials. At a time when the line between professional and private life is blurring, this career-driven generation is prioritizing personal well-being and private time.
Searching for individuality, its members are more interested in taking time for themselves and activities enhancing wellness or creativity. As a result, they are more inclined to sacrifice their love life, sometimes taking the quest for identity and self-actualization to extremes.
In a survey conducted by Tinder, 81% said they thought being single as opposed to being in a couple offers benefits, such as being able to meet new people, have deeper relationships with friends, concentrate more on work and have more time for physical and mental wellness.
A sign of change: Single’s Day in China
Any remaining doubts as to the magnitude of this demographic and cultural phenomenon would be banished by the success of Single’s Day in China, proof that a major shift is occurring in our societies. Falling on November 11, Single’s Day has become a major shopping event thanks to Alibaba. In 2018, it earned 30.8 billion dollars for the Chinese pure player, far more than Black Friday sales in the U.S., attracting attention to this growing population segment with its exponential purchasing power.
For brands, the smart way forward is to adjust their market offering and communication so that these consumers feel included and understood.
Cover: Single not sorry © Tinder