No advertising love for single women

A screen shot from a Lowe's commercial shows a single woman with her to-do list.

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Kai Ryssdal: The Census Bureau says women control something like 80 percent of all the household spending in this country. Retailers and marketers being fairly quick on the uptake, they have geared a healthy proportion of the ads we all see to women. Ads that are pretty heavy on images of motherhood, family and happy couples. Unless, of course, they are cat food commercials, which seem to be almost entirely the province of the single woman.

Thing is, more women are single now -- getting married later, if at all, or becoming single again later in life. Ashley Milne-Tyte would sure like to know why more marketers haven't caught on to that.


ASHLEY MILNE-TYTE: I was watching TV the other night when this Lowe's commercial came on. It shows a bubbly, 30-something woman in her gleaming new home... alone. No handsome husband or adorable kids in sight. She's discussing her to-do list.

LOWE'S AD: Somehow, updating the bathroom, it just hasn't gotten crossed off. I'm a grown woman, and I was scared of my own bathroom. Until I went...

OK, I won't admit to being scared of my bathroom. But I will admit to enjoying the ad. I felt a little glow of pleasure at the thought of that woman happily laying tiles and spreading grout. So how did a cynic like me get gooey over a home improvement commercial?

Melanie Notkin says I finally felt included. She's CEO of SavvyAuntie.com, a Web site for women who don't have children.

MELANIE NOTKIN: America seems to talk to all grown-ups as we're part of an intimate family of a mom, a dad and kids. Single people tend not to be spoken to or tend not to be part of the conversation.

Notkin says most advertisers actually have no idea how to talk to single women.

NOTKIN: When they want the visceral feeling to be happiness, they're going to show what we qualify as a happy lifestyle, which is family. And people often assume that women who are not married are terribly unhappy.

That's what was nice about the Lowe's commercial. The woman was excited about her home, happy and independent. Given how many single women there are, I wondered why so few ads are aimed at us -- 44 percent of women over 18 are single, 2 percent more than 10 years ago.

Tracy Chapman directs strategic planning at consultancy firm Just Ask A Woman. She says advertisers want to pitch their products to a broad audience without offending anyone.

TRACY CHAPMAN: They need to justify why they would go after this specific target. I think they want to reach as many women as possible with the amount of money that they have.

But ad industry veteran Stephanie Holland says that's misguided. She's executive creative director at Holland and Holland Advertising. She says instead of going for one-size-fits-all, advertisers need to target different types of women or they're wasting their money. So why don't they? Because, Holland says, so many decision makers at brands and ad agencies are men.

STEPHANIE HOLLAND: Men have a difficult time distinguishing even among moms, much less coming in and understanding the single female.

She says marketers are missing a big opportunity to target people like me. She says they just need to work on making that connection.

HOLLAND: An understanding of where you are in life as well as tons of other people as single women, and making you feel good about it. And that's what's gonna make you feel good about the product.

Take this upbeat approach from Chevrolet. A young woman, fresh from a first date, is picked up by a friend who whisks her away in a bright red Chevy Malibu. They hit the open road.

CHEVROLET AD: He said he was a professional student. No! Of life. Oh, I'm so sorry. Single lane ahead. I'll be in that lane.

In other words, girlfriends rule. At least for now.

I'm Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.

About the author

Ashley Milne-Tyte is the host of a podcast about women in the workplace called The Broad Experience.

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