Making the Right Connection: an Examination of Social Character and Success Factors in Personal Advertisements

ABSTRACT - The study employed a content analysis of personal advertisements to investigate the influence of social character and gender on the personality traits which were offered and sought. Multiple linear regression was undertaken to determine which characteristics contributed to the success of personal advertisers.


Fiona Faris and Sarah Todd (1996) ,"Making the Right Connection: an Examination of Social Character and Success Factors in Personal Advertisements", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, eds. Russel Belk and Ronald Groves, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 7-12.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, 1996      Pages 7-12


Fiona Faris, University of Otago

Sarah Todd, University of Otago


The study employed a content analysis of personal advertisements to investigate the influence of social character and gender on the personality traits which were offered and sought. Multiple linear regression was undertaken to determine which characteristics contributed to the success of personal advertisers.

Over the last two decades, personal advertisements have become not only an increasingly popular way to meet potential partners, but have also proven to be an effective means with which to examine exchange theory, partner selection and gender-role expectations. Whilst this study provides a replication of previous research conducted, the main objective is to explore the degree to which personality traits provided within personal advertisements vary as a consequence of gender and social character. In addition, it seeks to determine the level of success resulting from the inclusion of individual characteristics within personal advertisements.

Previous Empirical Research

Prior research efforts in the area have employed content analysis, and have largely been interested n ascertaining the resources offered and sought for the purpose of attracting a romantic interest (Cameron, et al., 1977; Harrison & Saeed, 1977; Bolig, et al.,1984; Deaux & Hanna, 1984; Lynn & Shurgot, 1984; Hirschman, 1987; Bernard, et al.,1991).

Harrison and Saeed (1977), in one of the earliest studies on this topic, undertook to test the matching principle. In their sample, they found evidence that the number of resources advertisers offered was positively correlated with the number of resources sought. This finding was interpreted as being consistent with the matching hypothesis, whereby members of each sex offer characteristics associated with their sex, and seek characteristics which are generally associated with the opposite sex.

In an extension of such work, Hirschman (1987) examined the social domain of personal advertisements, to show how they can be viewed as a form of marketing exchange. Findings confirmed those of earlier studies (Cameron, et al., 1977; Harrison & Saeed, 1977; Bolig, et al., 1984; Deaux & Hanna, 1984), indicating that the resources which were offered and sought in personal advertisements were linked to gender.

This brief review outlines the majority of previous research, which has focused on the differences which occur between the opposite sexes within partner selection. The main premise has been that males and females differ in the way in which they describe themselves, and their potential partner, and that this difference is a direct consequence of exchange theory and gender-role influences.

Another, though not as prominent, research theme has been the examination of the success of personal advertisers (Lynn & Shurgot, 1984; Bernard, et al., 1991). In the first of these, Lynn and Shurgot (1984) assessed the influence of different aspects of physical appearance on the number of replies advertisements had gained. Results indicated female advertisers received more responses than males, as did advertisers who provided non-negative descriptions of their general appearance. In a similar vein, Bernard, Adelman, and Schroeder (1991) examined the influence of mentioning physical attractiveness, and offering marriage, sporting, and cultural activities. Their findings indicated that male personal advertisers received more responses if they mentioned expensive cultural activities, whilst female advertisers mentioning active sporting activities were most successful. Lynn and Bolig (1985) concluded that comparing advertisement content with the responses received was worthwhile in the examination of personal advertisements, whilst Bernard, et al, (1991) proclaimed that such methods " . . . provide an excellent forum to study the marketing or presentation of the self in a meaningful, unobtrusive context".

The Present Study

The present study seeks to expand on previous research, specifically looking at the relationship between the resources provided in advertisements, and the advertisers’ response rates. The resource categories included in this study are more exhaustive than those previously examined, encompassing all characteristics mentioned in the advertisements.

Additionally, this research seeks to examine personal advertisements from a perspective which has not previously been employed within the domain of personal advertisements, that of personality. Personality has been, and still is, a prominent topic within marketing and consumer behaviour. Its application within the marketing literature is varied, having been employed in studies related to product purchasing behaviour, media choice, innovation, segmentation, fear, social influence, product choice, opinion leadership, risk taking, attitude change, and many more (Kassarjian & Sheffet, 1991).

As with the work in personal advertisements already discussed, the personality literature also acknowledges that differences exist between males and females. In a comprehensive literature review of gender differences in personality, Spence et al. (1985) contended that males possess more self-directing, goal-orinted characteristics, such as independence, assertiveness, and decisiveness. Females, on the other hand, possess interpersonally oriented, emotive qualities such as kindness, sensitivity to others, emotional responsiveness, and a need for affiliation. A clear distinction is apparent between those two descriptions. Males tend to possess traits which serve individualistic interests, that is those which are traditionally associated with the individual, such as ambition and pleasure. In contrast, it is apparent that female traits serve collectivistic interests, in that they indicate a concern for the welfare of others, through expressions of helpfulness and sensitivity. On the basis of this argument, it is proposed that, within the exchange situation of the personal advertisement, female advertisers will tend to offer collective qualities, while males will tend to offer individual ones. By contrast, it is expected that female personal advertisers will tend to seek individual traits, while males will seek collective traits. Specifically:

H1: Male personal advertisers will offer proportionately more individualistic qualities than female advertisers.

H2: Female personal advertisers will seek proportionately more individualistic qualities than male advertisers.

H3: Female personal advertisers will offer proportionately more collectivistic qualities than male advertisers.

H4: Male personal advertisers will seek proportionately more collectivistic qualities than female advertisers.

Within the personality literature there exists a core of #social theorists’, such as Alfred Adler, Erich Fromm, David Riesman, and Karen Horney, who believe that it is social influences on the individual which shape personality. Erich Fromm (1975) stressed that people’s search for love, companionship and security influence the development of personality, and that individuals’ loneliness and their search for satisfying human relationships is of central importance to behaviour and motivations.

Riesman’s (1950) theory is a personality schema which focuses on the classification of individuals into one of two sociocultural types, either inner-directed or other-directed. Available evidence indicates that inner-directed consumers tend to rely on their own #inner’ values or standards, while other-directed consumers tend to look to others for direction. Riesman’s theory examines the social adjustment function, which is said to involve, "facilitating, disrupting, or simply maintaining an individual’s relationship with other individuals" (Smith, et al., 1956, as cited in Woodside, 1968). As such, social theories of personality, and Riesman in particular, would appear to provide a useful position from which to examine interpersonal relationships, such as those evident in personal advertisements.

A further purpose of this study is to determine whether advertisers describe themselves, and the person they wish to meet, in terms of personality qualities which are reflective of their social character. The initial personality categories are further broken down into those traits which serve individual interests and those which serve collective interests. The premise developed is that because inner-directed individuals are more likely to rely on their own internal values and morals for guidance and direction, they are also more likely to emphasise internalised individualistic personality qualities, such as self-direction, achievement and enjoyment. By contrast, other-directed individuals, who are more likely to depend upon their peers to help guide their actions, will tend to emphasise more collective-oriented qualities, such as bnevolence. On the basis of this argument, the following hypotheses are proposed:

H5: Other-directed personal advertisers will offer proportionately more collectivistic qualities than inner-directed advertisers.

H6: Inner-directed personal advertisers will seek proportionately more collectivistic qualities than other-directed advertisers.

H7: Inner-directed personal advertisers will offer proportionately more individualistic qualities than other-directed advertisers.

H8: Other-directed individuals will seek proportionately more individualistic qualities than inner-directed advertisers.

Research Method

The value of employing dual methods when examining the arena of personal advertisements has already been recognised. Lynn and Bolig (1985) stated "the advantage of comparing additional information from personal advertisers with ad content is perhaps greater than that of any other research method using these ads. The types of information that may be requested of advertisers is virtually unlimited" (p.382). Thus, a dual approach was adopted for this study, with data being obtained from the advertisements, and the advertisers themselves.

Initial information was collected in the form of a postal survey to advertisers in #Connexions’, a personal advertisements section appearing in three regional newspapers in the lower part of the South Island of New Zealand.

The sampling frame consisted of 300 Connexions advertisers who were selected at random from a list of the over 600 advertisers who had recently used this relatively new service. Of the questionnaires sent, 108 usable responses were obtained, resulting in a response rate of 36%.

The survey requested advertisers to provide information regarding the length of time the advertisement had run, the number of telephone calls received, a personality inventory which measured their level of inner- or other-directedness (Kassarjian, 1962), and general questions about the advertiser’s occupation, age, income, marital status and gender.

The advertisements placed by these 108 respondents were then analysed, which involved coding the advertisements into twelve main claimed and desired resources. The coding frame employed was an adaptation of the 10 resource categories provided by Hirschman (1987), with Schwartz’s universal values (1992) forming the basis of the personality trait category.

Twenty additional advertisements, not included in the original sample, were selected randomly and their contents used to pre-test and confirm categories for the analysis. This process resulted in two additional categories, social discriminants and relationship resources, being added to the resource category schema. The complete list of resource categories is presented in Table 1.

Coding of the personal advertisements was performed by one of the authors and a postgraduate marketing student (who was blind to the research hypotheses). Working independently of each other, they coded each of the resources given in the advertisements into one of the 12 resource categories.

Each variable was treated as dichotomous, such that the assignment of a score to a resource category was reliant on the appearance of one or a number of key words or phrases. Requests for someone with #similar interests’ were coded as such, as it was felt attempting to code these as resources in their own right would lead to ambiguities, and inflate the number of resources provided in the advertisement (this is important in obtaining proportions, as will be evident later in the paper).

A third person served as a final arbitrator for the few advertisements about which the two primary coders disagreed. Of the total 1,346 resource items coded, conflicts were found on 59items or 4.4%, equating to an inter-rater reliability in excess of 95%. The majority of discrepancies were a consequence of omission, whereby one coder omitted an item that had been classified by the other coder. In such instances, the arbitrator checked to see that the resource item had been classified correctly, then included it as part of the analysis.

Data Analysis

In accordance with Hirschman’s (1987) study, the data was transformed from dichotomous to interval data in an attempt to more accurately gauge the relative importance placed on the resources. This involved expressing each resource category as a proportion of the total number of resources in the advertisement.

The initial personality trait categories were recoded as being either collectivistic or individualistic. Following Schwartz (1992), one of the personality traits was coded as collective (benevolence) and three as individual (self-direction, achievement, enjoyment). After summation of these categories, the dichotomous values were then transformed into proportionate weights in the same manner as above.







Kassarjian (1962) formulated a method of measuring Riesman’s inner- and other-directedness through the development of the #Inner-Other-Directedness Scale’. The scale, which was included in the advertiser’s postal survey, was graded by summing the inner-directed and other-directed answers of each respondent, subtracting the former from the latter and adding a constant of 72 to prevent negative scores. A low final score suggests the individual is other-directed, while a high score implies inner-direction (Kassarjian, 1962).


Although a random sample, there was an even representation of both male (52%) and female (48%) advertisers, and of other-directed (50.5%) and inner-directed (49.5%) individuals. An average of 12 resources were included in each advertisement analysed. As shown in Table 2, there was an overall tendency by advertisers to offer more resources than they sought, and this was particularly the case for male advertisers.

Advertisers offered significantly more collectivistic traits (p=0.015) and also more frequently sought collectivistic traits rather than those of an individualistic nature (p=0.005). Within the two classes of traits, no significant differences were observed between what was sought and what was offered.

An examination of the data presented in Table 3 suggests there is no evidence to accept the first two of the hypotheses presented. However, there is evidence that females offer significantly more individualistic qualities (p=0.084) while males seek more of these qualities (p=0.096). Thus, the third and fourth hypotheses are in the reverse order from the anticipated outcome. Overall, the results obtained lend some support to the general hypothesis that males and females differ in their emphasis on personality qualities within personal advertisements. As well, support is given to the matching hypothesis of exchange, with females offering the qualities specifically sought by male personal advertisers, and vice versa. A possible reasoning for the outcome being reversed may be that advertisements are written from the viewpoint of the audience’s gender, and consequently the traits they believe he or she values.

In contrast, no significant differences were observed in terms of social character and the offering and seeking of individualistic or collectivistic traits (see Table 4). Thus, whether or not a respondent was classified as inner- or other-directed appears to have had little, if any, effect upon the personality characteristics offered and sought.

Bearing the above results in mind, a multiple regression analysis was undertaken to ascertain which, if any, characteristics should be included in an advertisement for it to be successful. The number of calls each advertisement received constituted the dependet variable, with the independent variables consisting of the 12 main resource categories employed in the content analysis.

With advertisements usually being placed for four weeks, the average number of calls received per week was used as a surrogate measure of #success’. While obviously not determining whether or not the advertiser achieved what was hoped for (e.g., long-term relationship, or date), the number of calls is an indicator of the success of the advertisement itself. Overall, the mean number of calls received per week was four (s.d.=4.35) and, consistent with the findings of Lynn and Shurgot (1985), females received significantly more calls than male advertisers (p=0.0005).



The regression model obtained was highly significant, and explained 21% of personal advertisers’ success. As expected both from the number of calls received, and previous research, the gender of the personal advertiser had a positive effect on success, together with offering ethnic information and proclaiming to be seeking love.

Overall success =  -0.730374 + (2.952679)gender + (97.779956)ethnic information offered + (28.119994)love sought


When gender was used as a basis for splitting the sample (and thus removed as an independent variable), the resultant model predicting female advertisers’ success was still highly significant, and explained 51% of the variation in female advertisers’ success. Offering physical characteristics and material resources were added to the model initially obtained for the whole sample. Seeking love, together with offering physical characteristics and ethnic information, positively affected the number of calls received, but offering financial resources negatively affected a female advertiser’s chances of success.

Female success = 4.182183 + (296.135616)ethnicity offered + (15.301355)physical characteristics offered + (32.656913)love sought

                            - (67.270106)money offered


Similarly, the model obtained to predict the success of males advertisers was also significant, although explaining less of the variance than the female model. Offering intellectual information was found to positively affect males’ success rates while seeking demographic information had the opposite effect. Thus, the model obtained separately for males does not seem to be represented within that which emerged for the whole sample.

Male success = 3.984872 + (42.352985) intellectual information offered B (9.237480) demographic information sought



The results of this study indicate that the personality traits mentioned within personal advertisements are not influenced by the social character of the advertiser, although gender does have an effect. Such a finding confirms earlier research which has used gender as a discriminant variable. In addition, as found by Lynn and Shurgot (1984), it would appear that gender also explains differences in the number of responses received, with females receiving significantly more replies than their male counterparts. Results also suggest that females who offer ethnic information, or seek love within their advertisements have a greater likelihood of success. Similarly, the importance males place on physical attractiveness was also reinforced, with females who offered such resources receiving more calls, and those who offered monetary characteristics being less successful. Male advertisers who offered intellectual information received more responses than those who did not, with the seeking of demographic information appearing to negatively affect the number of responses received.

Limitations and Future Research

It must be acknowledged that, in reality, only the advertiser can determine the true success of the advertisement. The reasons for placing personal advertisements are varied, with Bolig, et al. (1984) giving the examples of searching for a lifelong partner, attainment of a date, and ego-enhancement.

While it is accepted that personal advertisements are an ideal source of data (Lynn & Bolig, 1985), particularly for empirically testing the concept of exchange theory, it must be remembered that the composition of them may not always be objective. As with most advertisements of a marketing nature, advertisers may well be expected to only include or over-represent particular characteristics, in the interest of making themselves as appealing as possible.

While this present study, like previous research in the area, is largely one-sided in that only the advertisers have been researched, it does go some way to redress the balance. That is, by calculating a success variable on the basis of calls received, it is possible to infer #consumer’ response. With technology such as telephone #voicemail’ becoming increasing used with personal advertisements, there exists an increased opportunity to investigate further the nature of responses, and thus extend our understanding of exchange in the sphere of personal advertisements.


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Fiona Faris, University of Otago
Sarah Todd, University of Otago


AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2 | 1996

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