Ads, Mags and the Single Girl.

Ads, Mags and the Single Girl.Byline: Lauren Barack

Those powerful, savvy and well-heeled (in all respects) women of Sex and the City have moved on to rerun heaven. But the little bit of reality that the show captured - the existence of successful, self-assured women with their own financial clout and no inclination to get hitched - lives on.

There is a rising tide of single women (some formerly married, some with children) with the wealth and buying power that advertisers crave but whose needs for practical information (beyond fashion and sex tips) still go largely ignored by magazine publishers. Today there are 2.6 million single women in the desirable 25- to 44-year-old age group with incomes of $30,000 to $59,000, compared with 1.8 million women in that income range in 1990, according to Mediamark Research from American Demographics magazine. There are 13 million unmarried women who now head U.S. households, according to the 2000 census. Single women bought 21 percent of all new homes in 2003, according to the National Association of Realtors, making them the second-largest group of homebuyers, behind married couples. Fifty-seven percent of single women own their own homes, and single women are more likely than any other demographic to own new cars, according to Packaged Facts, a publishing division of MarketResearch.com.

Single women also earn more - 28 cents per hour - than single men, according to the Employment Policy Foundation, a nonprofit research and educational foundation. They have become such an important force in the U.S. that Democratic pollster Celinda Lake says they could be the "soccer moms" of the 2004 election. (Take that, NASCAR dads!)

For many women, singlehood is no longer regarded as a marginal lifestyle or an extended bachelorette party that ends with a wedding ring. It's a choice. At the same time, high divorce rates continue to produce single women, many of whom are upscale professionals. That leaves millions of American women buying cars and homes and investing for retirement, all while planning solo vacations, dating online, cooking coq au vin and shopping for Prada shoes.

The financial clout of single-by-choice women would seem to create a desirable target for mutual-fund companies, mortgage banks, brokerage firms and insurers. Yet, finding such advertisers in a women's magazine (or the content that might attract them) is about as likely as finding a women's underwear ad in Soldier of Fortune. "There is no magazine that squarely addresses how single women can learn how to take care of themselves financially and become successful," says magazine consultant Peter Kreisky.

The February issues of O, Cosmo, Glamour and Harper's Bazaar, for example, have a few credit-card ads - and five lonely technology brands - in a sea of hair color, fashion and diet ads. "I definitely think this is a missed opportunity for the financial firms," says Lee Zobrist, a partner with media-planning firm Communication Partners.

Julie Stonehouse, a 36-year-old decorative painter and textiles instructor in Oakland, is the kind of woman a discount broker or mutual fund might want to target. She says she hasn't given up on finding a mate or marriage, but in the meantime, she's otherwise engaged. Ten years ago, she turned a career in fashion into a profitable business that has designed trompe l'oeil murals in dozens of homes and businesses throughout the San Francisco area.

As part of her work, Stonehouse reads about 8 to 10 magazines a month, from Vogue to Lucky, ReadyMade to Fortune Small Business. But none of these magazines talk to her directly - in that girlfriend-like voice that emanates from the pages of women's titles - on vital topics like how to invest, buy a home or plan for retirement - all stuff she might do with a spouse. "You might get a little lip service on financial stuff like how to cut your taxes or save receipts," she says. "But there is nothing really big picture like investing or how to save and then buy a house."

Stories about work and money are long-standing staples of magazines like Glamour and Cosmo. But "pieces about investing are a tougher sell," says Glamour's executive editor, Jill Herzig. "Women seem either unmotivated to invest - or too anxious to attack the issue on their own."

It could be that women's magazines are making their own sexist assumptions about women and finances or that they know their readers turn to them for makeup tips - and may look to business and personal-finance magazines for investing tips. Age, too, could be a substantial factor. While 67 percent of the members of the National Association of Investors Corp., (who belong to investment clubs), are women, their average age is 55, a group largely ignored by women's magazines. Glamour's average age is 34, and Cosmo editor-in-chief Kate White has lowered the age of her audience to 20-somethings, who are usually more concerned with getting a higher salary than a lower mortgage rate.

The occasional dollop of career advice won't cut it with advertisers, though. "When it's just one out of 300 pages," says Zobrist. "It actually tells them they shouldn't be there - that since women's magazines don't want the editorial, they don't want my ads."

On the other hand, the demographic is so compelling that advertisers might seek these readers wherever they lurk. "Women have more money, and that's created a huge upheaval in the way they're buying products," says Brad Adgate, a senior vice president and research director at media-buying firm Horizon Media. "Advertisers will follow that."

Eric Blankfein, vice president and director of planning at Horizon, points out that this already happened in the auto category. "I represented Volvo 10 years ago, when women first came on their radar screen," he says. "Now car ads are ubiquitous in women's magazines." And that's without car reviews or special sections on leasing versus buying.

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