Marketing Targeted to Personality Profiles Is More Effective

“While persuasive messages are often targeted toward specific demographic groups, we wanted to see whether their effectiveness could be improved by targeting personality characteristics that cut across demographic categories.” – Jacob Hirsh,  University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

A study in Psychological Science, a publication of the Association for Psychological Science, suggests that advertisements can be more effective when they are tailored to the unique personality profiles of potential consumers.

The 5 Personality Dimensions

Hirsh and co-authors Sonia Kang, from the Rotman School of Management and the University of Toronto Mississauga, and Galen Bodenhausen, from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, developed five advertisements for a cell phone, each designed to target one of the five major trait domains of human personality (NEOAC):

  • Need for Stability – How you respond to stress.
  • Extraversion – How you tolerate sensory stimultion.
  • Openness to Experience – How open to new experiences.
  • Agreeableness – How you defer to others.
  • Conscientiousness – How you focus on work and goals.

Each personality dimension is associated with a unique motivational concern. For example, agreeable individuals tend to value a sense of belonging, compassion, and interpersonal harmony, while open individuals tend to value intellectual and aesthetic pursuits.

The Experiment

Participants were were asked to describe their own characteristics on a personality questionnaire. Then they were shown advertisements featuring a picture of the phone next to a paragraph of text that was changed in order to highlight the motivational concerns associated with each of the five personality dimensions. For example:

  • Extraverts:  “With XPhone, you’ll always be where the excitement is”
  • Neurotics: “Stay safe and secure with the XPhone.”

They were then asked to rate the effectiveness of ads with questions like:

  • “I find this advertisement to be persuasive.”
  • “This is an effective advertisement.”
  • “I would purchase this product after seeing this advertisement.”

In every case, the advertisements were rated as more effective when they were aligned to match the participant’s personality profile. Messages that compelled an extravert to buy the phone, for example, were very different from those that appealed to conscientious individuals.

“We were impressed by the range of motives that can be brought to bear on a single object,” Hirsh says. “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.”


This research on personality-based message design has broad implications for the development of tailored communication strategies across industries for advertising, as well as to foster diverse outcomes, including health promotion, environmental responsibility and employee benefits enrollment.

The APS journal Psychological Science is the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology. For a copy of the article “Personalized Persuasion: Tailoring Persuasive Appeals to Recipients’ Personality Traits” and access to other Psychological Science research findings, contact Anna Mikulak at 202-293-9300

More On the 5 Factor Model of Personality Dimensions 

Dr. Pierce Howard and his wife, Jane Howard, of the Center for Applied Cognitive Science in Charlotte, NC introduced me to the model.  Unlike other models that are based on various theories of personality, the Five Factor model of personality dimensions is derived empirically from language people use to describe normal personality.Here’s how it developed:  In 1936 Gordon Allport and Harold Odbert challenged the psychological research community to identify the core building blocks of personality.  Researchers identified 4.500 words in the English Dictionary that described normal human behavior.  Then, they grouped these words into as few groups as possible.  Over the years, researchers have conducted factor analysis on these groupings and, with the advent of the personal computer in the 1980’s, these tests became much more reliable and accurate.Now, researchers appear to agree that the Five Factor Model as the basis of personality is “a finding consistent enough to approach the status of law.” (2)  It has been validated in other languages:  Spanish, Italian, German, Portugese, Dutch, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Hebrew, Turkish, Shone, Finnish, Swedish, Czech, Polish, Russian, French, Norwegian, Hungarian, Icelandic, and Taiwanese. 

Several psychometric tests, including the NEO PR-I by Costa and McCrae, the Workplace Big 5 Profile 4.0 by CentACS, and the Hogan Assessments all measure individuals on these traits.  

The Five Factor Model boils personality down to five major personality traits: N-E-O-A-C.

Personality Dimensions

Now, each of these five personality dimensions – NEOAC – exist along a bell curve.  Compared to the rest of the population, your personality may be in the low, middle, or high range. Here are the main personality dimensions and the traits in the low, middle, and high ranges:

Personality Dimensions Subraits

Each of these major traits however, is made up of 5-7 subtraits which influence several of your scores as well.

Scores may change over time. Scores on Need for Stability, Extroversion, and Originality tend to go down slightly in your twenties, while scores for Accommodation and Consolidation go up. Basically, in your twenties you mellow out, become a little less social, and a little more practical; and you are more likely to cooperate with others and also focus on goals.  But, after your thirties your personality traits remain the same, statistically.  Even if the way you see the world, the meaning you make of everything, and your outlook on life may change dramatically, these core personality traits tend to remain the same.

If you are interested in learning more about the Five Factor Model of Personality Dimensions, please visit the Center for Applied Cognitive Science – CentACS. 

(1) Howard, Pierce and Howard, Jane (2001).  The Owner’s Manual for Personality at Work.  Charlotte: CentACS(2) Digman, J.M. and Inouye, J. (1986) “Further Speculation of the Five Robust Factors of Personality.” Journal of Personal and Social Psychology, 50, p.116)