Personalities – not Demographics – are Key to Advertising

Many moons ago, in the early days of the internet, closing pop-up ads could have been a competitive sport – if you blundered onto the wrong site, they’d appear faster than you could close them. And, while that particular bugbear is now a relic of the pre-broadband internet, modern web design can still create an experience that’s distinctly anti-user. 

Ad Blockers

There’s nothing wrong with advertising. Targeted pieces of content can help people find things they’re interested in or match them with products they didn’t know they needed – but the kind of directionless, scattergun marketing techniques that blight the internet are eroding consumer trust and making brands look desperate.

Harebrained marketing also contributes to the popularity of ad blockers (currently used by 22% of internet users), a development that threatens the livelihood of websites like The Telegraph. Scott Cunningham of the Interactive Advertising Bureau told the Consumerist that the industry “messed up” in placing adverts between people and the content they’re interested in, forgetting a “social and ethical responsibility” to avoid intrusive ads.

So, in one of the stranger situations to arise from the cavernous depths of the internet this side of the millennium, advertising is starting over. With traditional methods failing brands and techniques like auto-play videos earning more vitriol than views, how can marketers re-ingratiate themselves with an increasingly ad-shy user base?


Advertisers have long aimed content at particular demographics – rail holidays at over-65s, video games at millennials, and make-up at women, for example – but the tactic doesn’t account for interests or personality traits, two arguably more valuable datasets for marketers; after all, not all people in their twenties like playing games.

One industry – online casino – is hedging its bets on personality types. 888poker has taken the initiative by dividing its player base up into five distinct groups – fish, rock, shark, bully and maniac – depending on their playing style, aversion to risk, bluffing ability, and their likelihood of winning or losing a game.

While the data is mostly a boon for players at present, helping to unravel an opponent’s “tells”, 888’s system has applications in helping the brand appeal to certain customers, especially with regard to new experiences like the BLAST poker game and SNAP, an endless version of the card game. It’s easy to see how risk-taking players – or “fish” – would appreciate a fast-paced experience.

Emotional Stability

There’s a lot of science behind the personality model of advertising. For instance, the University of Toronto identifies five elements native to each person’s identity (extraversion, openness to new experiences, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and agreeableness), which can determine their interest in certain products.

In an experiment, researchers at the above institution created five different adverts for a fictional “XPhone”, each marketed at a different group and each carrying a different slogan (e.g. the “extrovert” advert emphasised excitement). The results demonstrated that people respond to adverts for the same product in different ways depending on the words used.

While that might not sound like a ground-breaking conclusion (nervous people are inevitably going to prefer words like “safety” over “action”), the study nevertheless provides a tool for advertisers to use in their endless fight to snag consumers’ attention. There’s an obvious difficulty associated with marketing to personality though – privacy. 

Customer Profiles

Marketing footballs to football fans is a largely harmless endeavour but trying to sell a spa holiday to anxious single mothers based in Nottingham will create questions around where that information came from; after all, the people who can accurately identify somebody’s personality are likely to be friends or medical professionals. With that in mind, creating customer profiles based on personality will likely be inferred from browsing habits and social media, as it is now.

In any case, we’re still a few years from a more user-friendly internet, given that maligned tactics like “clickbait” and content slideshows still make up a good chunk of marketing efforts.

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