Why Advertisers Want to Know Your Deep, Dark Secrets

Chad Brooks
Tue, 22 May 2012 10:39 CDT
Psychologist Couch

Advertisers want to know all your quirky neuroses. That’s because new research reveals that consumers are more likely to be persuaded by an advertisement that targets their personality type than one that caters to their demographic.

So, instead of creating ads that appeal to women between the ages of 25 and 40, for example, marketers should be focusing on targeting ads to nervous people or assertive people or impatient people, according to a study in the current issue of Psychological Science. The research suggests advertisements can be more effective when they are tailored to the unique personality profiles of potential consumers.

“Persuasive messages are often targeted toward specific demographic groups,” said study author Jacob Hirsh, from the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. “We wanted to see whether their effectiveness could be improved by targeting personality characteristics that cut across demographic categories.”

The research examined the reactions of more than 300 consumer to five different cellphone advertisements, each designed to target one of the five major trait domains of human personality: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability and openness to experience.

Each personality dimension is associated with a unique motivational concern that was highlighted in an ad.

For example, the advertisement tailored to extraverts included the line “With XPhone, you’ll always be where the excitement is;” for neurotics, the same line read “Stay safe and secure with the XPhone.”

Participants were also asked to describe their own characteristics on a personality questionnaire. In every case, the ads were rated more effective when they were aligned to match the participant’s personality profile.

“Although the product itself was the same in each case, its subjective value changed dramatically depending on the personal motives we highlighted in the advertisement,” Hirsch said.

With more than $500 billion spent on advertising worldwide, Hirsch said the research, also conducted by co-authors Sonia Kang of the Rotman School of Management and Galen Bodenhausen of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, has broad implications for the development of tailored communication strategies in all industries.

“Personality-based message design may be useful not only for advertisers, but also for fostering any number of outcomes, from health promotion, to civic engagement, to environmental responsibility,” he said.


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