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Marketers targeting ‘aunts' with no kids

Many non-mothers have special children in their lives and money to spend on them.

By Suzanne Perez Tobias
McClatchy Newspapers

Not long ago, DINKs – dual income, no kids – were all the rage among marketers.

But get ready for the next big consumer demographic: working women who don't have kids, but who care about and buy things – potentially lots of things – for other people's children.

Melanie Notkin calls them “PANKs” – professional aunt, no kids.

“People are just starting to realize how huge this segment is,” says Notkin, founder of SavvyAuntie.com, which launched last month.

“We're talking about all the cool aunts, all the great-aunts, godmothers and women who have special children in their lives, but who may not be part of the Mommy Club.”

Suddenly aunties – both aunts by relation and aunts by choice – are in.

Major corporations, including Ford, Hasbro and FAO Schwarz, have signed advertising deals with Notkin. She recently was profiled by a Washington Post reporter and featured at BlogHer, an annual blogging conference for women.

Some PANKs say they're amused by the new designation. But in many ways, they said, it's overdue.

“My nephew is a huge part of my life,” said Brady Barnard, 22, a Realtor and full-time student in the Wichita area. (Seven-year-old Tanner calls her “Bestest Aunt Brady.”)

“I love being an aunt, because you can spoil them and then send them home,” she said. “It sounds horrible, but you do.”

That's part of the appeal of aunthood, says Notkin, who lives in New York City. It's also what attracts marketers to the group.

A recent Census Bureau report on fertility shows that 20 percent of women ages 40 to 44 were childless in 2006, a figure that has doubled over the past three decades. A similar study shows that more than 45 percent of women aged 15 to 44 do not have children.

“Aunties have more discretionary income to indulge those nieces and nephews with gifts or activities,” Notkin said.

Little research exists on the buying power of single childless women. “The only data they have is focused on what Mom spends, not the non-mom,” she said.

But according to an analysis done for American Demographics by Third Wave Research Group, a Wisconsin-based marketing firm, childless couples wield considerable financial clout.

Compared with couples with kids, childless couples spend 60 percent more on entertainment, 79 percent more on food and more than twice as much on dining out.

“Childless couples very often have pets, and they spend a lot of money on them,” Ed Wallander, a principal at Third Wave, said in the report. “They also tend to be insanely generous to their nieces and nephews.”

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