Focus on Research

May 25, 2012 12:10 pm

Something for the weekend

It is estimated that this year the worldwide spend on advertising will be around $530bn. For advertisers it is vital that they spend their money wisely - targeting the right consumer to get their message across.

Traditionally advertisers tailor their campaigns to specific demographic groups, retired professionals or young mothers for example. But now new research has highlighted an alternative approach – targeting personality profiles.

Academics from North America selected five personality traits: agreeableness, extraversion, emotional stability, openness to experience and conscientiousness. Each of these traits is associated with certain attitudes, for example the open individual tends to value intellectual pursuits, while the agreeable person values a sense of belonging. Once the traits were selected the researchers then designed five different advertisements for cell phones, with each advert targeting one of the personality dimensions.

Participants were then asked to rate the effectiveness of each advertisement and also to assess their own personality on a questionnaire.

The researchers found that all the advertisements were deemed to be more effective when they aligned with the participant’s personality.

“We were impressed by the range of motives that can be brought to bear on a single object,” says Jacob Hirsh of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.

“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.”

Mr Hirsh, with his co-authors Sonia Kang from Rotman and the University of Toronto Mississauga and Galen Bodenhausen of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, point out that the research has wider implications.

“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.”

The paper, Marketing is more effective when attached to personality profiles, is published in the Association for Psychological Science.

The glass half full or glass half empty personality, ie an individual who is either optimistic or pessimistic is a description we are all familiar with. The tendency has been to consider having an upbeat outlook as more beneficial. But a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan is now looking at mixing and matching these two outlooks and suggests that “strategic optimism and pessimism” can be of advantage.

Edward Chang has told Psychology Today that in certain contexts pessimism can be healthy and optimism bad. Pessimism he says can be a good defensive tactic and counter intuitively he adds, can be most useful when an individual might appear to have nothing to be pessimistic about.

“When we’ve been successful before and have a realistic expectation of being successful again, we may be lulled into laziness and overconfidence.

“Pessimism can give us the push that we need to try our best,” he says.

As an example Prof Chang cites two approaches to a meeting, either an everything will be fine approach, or anticipating that there may be conflict between participants and sitting them apart. By factoring in a pessimistic approach he says it is more likely that the meeting will be successful.

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