A Pew Research Center recently released the results of a study that are startling when looked at backwards. The percentage of single people who are American-born between 1971 and 1985 has gone from 16% to 46% in one generation. To rephrase: The number of 30-to-44-year olds who are single will have nearly tripled in just one generation.
In 1970, the marriage rate in that age group was 84%. By 2007, the number dipped to 60%. Forecasters know by extrapolating the trajectory of this trend that the percentage of married couples will continue to fall. What’s significant here isn’t the number of people who are married; it’s how many people are single.
I leave it to sociologists to explain the causes, though we could all take guesses and probably be all correct. How this impacts us as dog fanciers is that it is sure to change our perception of the ideal puppy buyer. Breeders have typically “held out” for families and working couples to buy their puppies, but increasingly, the average dog owner is a working adult who lives alone and may choose stay that way. The new “couple” might very well be a single person and their dog, and the new family could be several individuals and their dogs living in the same household. Breeders need to rethink their decades-old policies to fall in line with modern demographics.
The proverbial plot thickens when we pay attention to what media trend forecasters are projecting as the coming “new age” of communication. Breeders who have heretofore shunned the Internet will find it necessary to move beyond what some might call snobbery and others regard as paranoia at public access they can’t control. Times are radically different from the days when breeders sneered at what they regarded as “substandard” or backyard breeders because those people advertised their puppies in the classified ads of a newspaper. Increasingly (and moving rapidly to “exclusively,”) potential puppy buyers get their information and their dogs from breeders with an Internet presence. Breeders who don’t “get” this are likely to be breeders who can’t place their puppies.
Kennel clubs, publications, and registries will also feel the impact of how they advertise themselves. In previous generations, it was possible to get a lot of bang for one’s advertising buck because one medium, say, print media, could reach so many people at once. The majority of the country watched the same TV shows, listened to the same radio stations, and got their news from similar sources essentially at the same time.
The Internet, cable, and satellite options have allowed us to opt-out of traditional mass media, while iPhones and tablets enable us to get information “on-the-go” and not be tied down to geographical boundaries. We may live in the Midwest, but we now have access to puppies in Kazakhstan while sitting in traffic in New York where can compare pedigrees, prices, and policies with other breeders from every continent without ever leaving our car. We’re a nation of highly mobile individuals who get different bits of information from alternative sources at different times, and depending upon the breed, few breeders can consider themselves to be “the only game in town“ anymore. As the number of single people overtakes families to become the face of the average American, anyone wanting to reach the public will be challenged not only by how they do it, but daunted by how expensive “scattershot marketing” is going to become.
The consequences will be dire if once again, the dog fancy has to play “catch up” in promoting itself. You and I know about the dedication of the hobby breeder. You and I know about the deceit and fallacy of the animal rights message. Many among us, however, have failed to see that what we do should be promoted in terms of how a “consumer” sees it. As dog clubs and breeders, we have this unique “product” that should have been “marketed” all along to ensure the future of our sport while protecting the legacy of our breeds. Sadly, we’ve come up short in communicating why predictability in a dog bred by an ethical breeder invested in their breed is a benefit to the owner and the dog. We failed to match and surpass the emotional appeal (albeit lies) of the opposition’s message, and we erred in assuming that the public would see through the fraud, fallacy and fiction of the animal rights message. We failed because as far as I can tell, we didn’t really try.
Mass media is shrinking, and the number of people who get their news the same way as everyone else is shrinking. As Roy H. Williams wrote in a column called the “Monday Morning Memo,” “the movement towards singleness is sociological, the erosion of mass media is technological, and each trend speeds up the other.” Media forecasters suggest that maybe there’s ten years left for traditional advertising methods to reach the public effectively. After that, it’s going to become very challenging and very expensive to reach the same number of people as before, and this will be especially true for the breeder. Prescient fanciers will start thinking now about how to create – and present – an appealing message about who they are, what they do, and why it matters to the new majority demographic of single people. If we fail to anticipate the changes ahead and fall short of effectively getting our message out the next time around, I don’t see us getting a second chance.
This article first appeared in Dogs in Review, May 2015