Dr. Jacob Hirsh, University of Toronto – Personality-Targeted Advertisements

Jul 26, 2012

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Jacob Hirsh of the University of Toronto examines how the effectiveness of advertisements could be improved by ignoring demographics and focusing on the customer’s personality.

Jacob Hirsh is an assistant professor of organizational behavior and human resource management at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. His teaching and research interests include emotion, self-regulation, and decision-making, as well as social neuroscience. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Toronto.

About Dr. Hirsh

Dr. Jacob Hirsh, University of Toronto – Personality-Targeted Advertisements

Marketing is all about communicating the value of a product to a target audience. A popular technique called message tailoring customizes advertisements to specific characteristics of the audience. Most often, this tailoring is based on demographic categories, with different ads being delivered to different demographic groups, such as single women, or college students. In OUR research, we tried tailoring messages not based on demographics, but instead based on personality traits.

Personality psychologists have identified five major traits along which people vary from one another: Extraversion is how outgoing and talkative we are; Agreeableness is how compassionate or selfish we are; Conscientiousness is how self-disciplined and industrious we are; Neuroticism is how anxious we are; and Openness to Experience reflects creative interests and cognitive flexibility.

To test the effectiveness of personality-based marketing, we recruited 300 people in an online survey. Each person saw five sets of advertisements for a newly designed smart phone, and each of these ads was designed to target a specific personality trait. For extraversion, we emphasized how the phone helps you to stay in touch with your friends and be wherever the excitement is. For conscientiousness, we emphasized how the phone helps people be productive and achieve their goals. In each case, the advertisement was tailored to one of the five major personality traits. Next, we asked people how much they would like to buy the smart phone based on each of the advertisements, and analyzed their responses according to their own personality profiles.

It turns out that the cell phone advertisements were more effective when they matched the personality profile of the audience. What’s important here is that the product was exactly the same in each case, but framing it according to personality had a powerful influence. This research highlights the value of understanding the personality traits of your target audience when developing your marketing strategy.