The Hidden Key to Cosmo Headlines:
Sex and the City?

Sex and the City

I bet you didn’t know that the main characters of HBO’s Sex and the City represent one of the better examples of the four personality temperaments, did you?

Just about every personality typing system—from Hippocrates’ humors to Myers-Briggs/Keirsey or DISK—groups personalities into four primary temperaments. Only the labels differ:

  • sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic, melancholic
  • spontaneous, methodical, competitive, humanistic
  • artisan, guardian, rational, idealist

and so on.

And, yes, each major character on Sex and the City typifies one of the four temperaments:

  • Carrie serves as the Humanistic hub that brings all the others together, and she discusses and writes about her feelings and relationships
  • Samantha, the here-and-now, “I’ll try anything,” confident hedonist, represents the Spontaneous temperament
  • Miranda’s hard-edged, skeptical, career-minded “voice-of-reason” perspective corresponds to the Competitive temperament
  • Charlotte’s more traditional, conservative concern for “The Rules” marks her as a Methodical

And, yes, Dorothy, this pattern applies to many more shows than just Sex and the City. Star Trek’s Bones, Kirk, Spock and Scottie also fall into this pattern, as well as Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, and Rabbit, and even the Tin Man, the Lion, the Scarecrow, and Dorothy, herself. If four principle characters are involved, they’ll probably line up with the temperaments.

So what does temperament have to do with Cosmopolitan’s Headlines?

Well, take another look at Cosmo’s cover and headlines through the eyes of these Sex and the City personas. Better yet, imagine them sitting around brunch, passing the magazine around the table, the way they might The New York Times. While each of the characters will have a comment to add about any one of the headlines and would listen to the article if it was read to them, the key is to picture the character most likely to be reading the story—either by grabbing for the magazine after hearing the headline or, in Charlotte’s case, reading the story at home.

“The 22 Best Relationship Tips Ever”

This one has Carrie’s name so all over it, she may have written the article. This type of relationship advice would normally appeal to Humanistics.

“Get Ahead Faster: 12 Brilliant (and Slightly Badass) Ways to Do It”

OK, I’ll bet most readers think of Samantha when they read, “slightly badass.” But the problem is context—Samantha is the most immediately at home with the Cosmopolitan approach to life and Sex. Take this headline out of Cosmo, put it in the Times business section, and suddenly it becomes pure Miranda. The headline would instantly appeal to our Competitive, Harvard-educated lawyer who would undoubtedly approve of the hard-edged, and “slightly bad-ass” advice.

“A Shocking Thing 68% of Chicks Do In Bed”

While she might express some disdain on the “thing,” or disbelief that so many women do it, Charlotte would undoubtedly be the most interested to compare herself to the supposed “norm,” even if she might be too shy to take a visible interest in it. Also, notice the use of “chicks” to indicate the otherness of the women in the study, and then add Charlotte’s attraction to the specificity and seemingly factual nature of the headline. Methodicals dig both facts and objectivity. Since Samantha will undoubtedly tell the group that the “thing” isn’t all that shocking, her interest will be passing. But Charlotte’s the one who would be motivated enough to buy a copy of the magazine on her way home just so she can read the story.

“Your Sexual Health: Crucial New Facts Your Gyno Forgot to Mention”

Yup, Charlotte would probably be the first to fret over this one, too. She’d definitely want to know the facts and to be as responsible as possible about her health.

“Deep Sex: Breathing and Touch Techniques That Are So Intense, You’ll Both Reach a New Level of Pleasure”

Um, Samantha, anyone? A headline loaded with experiential and sensory language is sure to attract Spontaneous women like Samantha. Carrie, our Humansitic, would love the words “you’ll both,” since it implies intimacy and connection between two people, but I’ll give the nod to Samantha on this one.

“The Sex Position He Craves: It Gives Him the Hottest View and Hits All the Right Spots”

This one also seems custom-made for Samantha. In certain situations or relationships, I might expect Charlotte to want to make sure she was meeting her man’s expectations, but otherwise, this is definitely Samantha’s headline.

“Guys Spill: White Lies They Tell Women All the Time”

OK, this one would undoubtedly appeal to all four women. You can almost see them each grabbing for the magazine over this one. But I’m thinking Carrie would eventually snatch the magazine from the fray in order to read this article—she craves insight into how men think and feel and would want to explore the lies and their impact on relationships (great material for a future article, right?) Miranda would be more interested in this one simply to confirm her suspicions and to gain an extra “edge” in her relationships. Samantha would consider these lies as just part of the game. And, of course, Charlotte would be a bit put-off by the inappropriateness of the lies, but isn’t this why “The Rules” were made in the first place?

How to apply this insight to your headlines and copy

First, if you have a blog, scroll down through your last few weeks or months worth of posts/headlines. Are they predominantly appealing to only one temperament? Are you just grabbing the interest and attention of Competitives? They only represent 10% of the population, so broadening your headlines’ appeal could have a huge impact.

Second, what about sub-headings or hyperlinks to related info? Suppose that all four women did end up opening their personal copies of Cosmo up to the “Guys Spill: White Lies They Tell Women All the Time” story.

The right sub-headings to that article could further attract or retain the interest/eye of each woman as she scanned and skimmed the pages. In fact, tests show that Web and blog visitors engage in exactly that kind of skimming and scanning, so you might want to further hook these hypothetical Sex and the City readers with something like:

  • “How to see through the smokescreen and gain control of the situation”
  • “On the other hand… One woman’s naughty move to turn his embarrassment into her bedroom pleasure.”
  • “Does this mean your charming prince is really a Jack-of-all-lies? 5 rules to restore respect to his courtship.”
  • “The psychology behind the lies – and what it means for your relationship”

Wanna guess which character would zero in on each subheading? Then don’t read this next part ’til after you’ve guessed.

How I ordered the subheadings and why

Miranda and Samantha first, followed by Charlotte and Carrie. In a different situation, I might have placed Samantha before Miranda or Carrie before Charlotte, but I’d almost always put the fast decision-makers’ material, the Competitive and Spontaneous stuff, at the top. Methodical and humanistic temperaments will usually scroll or read further down the page before deciding to click off of an article or web page.

Should *you* be writing with an eye toward the Sex and the City gals?

Well, no, actually. Not unless you feel those characters accurately represent your readership. Otherwise, you’ll do much better creating your own personas.

But you do want to ensure your personas cover the four major temperaments, as exemplified by the Sex and the City characters. And you’d want to apply as much psychological insight in writing to those personas as you would in writing to those characters—or to your best friend or spouse.

Jeff Sexton is a Persuasion Architect and copywriter with Future Now, a frequent contributor to the grokdotcom blog, and a co-instructor of the popular and highly regarded Persuasive Online Copywriting course.

(Editor’s Note: The next Persuasive Online Copywriting seminar is January 14, 2008 in Orlando, Florida. It’s not too late to attend, so check it out.)

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Comments

  1. Oh, my! Strong headlines, and personality typing/temperaments all rolled into one post? Got me hook, line and sinker.

    Plus an excellent point on the fact that not all persona’s work for all sites.

  2. Fantastic article!

    I definitely agree. Once you understand your target market’s persona, you can write copy to cater to them. You can create services to cater to them.

    The client persona drives the business.

  3. One thing that I find very common across many blogs, and my high profile pro-blogger blogs are eye catching, cosmo like headlines. Blogs are like newspapers and great headlines get the readers attention. I think all bloggers should be implementing great headlines as i find myself skipping over boring and generic headlines

  4. I think that it’s also important to think about your readers in context of what they will do with your content. Adding the personality types to this adds a new dimension to this exercise, and I’d never really thought about that before, so now I have a new challenge to diagnose:

    Which personalities are likely to stumble or digg a post, who’s more inclined to add an encouraging comment, who will refrain from posting directly on your site but link to a post or subtly add you to their blogroll, and who will bash you outright in the comments section or bring the debate to their blog?

    Thanks for the thought-provoking article, Jeff!

  5. Nice article, Jeff! I only wish I actually knew the first thing about these characters so I didn’t have to keep going back to cross reference the names with the temperaments–but that’s a very minor complaint. I especially liked your discussion of the ordering of hyper-links within an article that appealed to all the temperaments.

    Thanks for another well written article.

  6. Thought provoking indeed. I’ve never got much beyond thinking about the age group of my target market – baby boomers. Taking it further and remembering the different personality types will certainly affect the headlines and sub headings I produce in future. I tend to write long posts so the tip about the ordering of sub headings is really helpful.

  7. This post gave me a brilliant idea! I’m starting a blog about developing comic strips, and was planning a series on character development involving the 4 personality types. I think I will break up the posts into categories and TRY TO cater the headlines and writing for each personality that is being discussed. This could be a great series of either 4 or 16 posts. Thanks for the inspiration!

  8. Thanks for all the comments. I just wanted to answer a few of Tiffany’s really insightful questions.

    Generally speaking the idea of reader engagement will divide more heavily along the Introvert-Extrovert axis than the temperaments. Extroverts are more likely to publicly engage you with comments, etc. Introverts are more likely to privately e-mail you or subtly add you to their blogs via trackbacks.

    But as for temperaments, here’s how it breaks down:

    Competitives (thinking-intuitives) are more likely to debate you on the over-arching theories or on how your message does or doesn’t mesh with larger systems of thought. They are also more likely to be at ease with stirring up debate, even if that involves confrontation.

    Humanistics generally won’t be as comfortable with confrontation unless you really offend their deeply held values. They are more likely to interpret your message in it’s best possible light and to offer support, either through positive comments or links. They are also most likely to respond enthusiastically to an expression of humanistic values.

    Methodicals are the most likely to nitpick you on the facts. They’ll hold you feet to the fire over the details and the specifics. And I apologize ahead of time to the methodicals out there for using the word “nitpick” ; )

    Spontaneous are, well, spontaneous. They are the most likely to take action based on your post. Though what kind of action is hard to say. They might just DO what you suggest without bothering to post a comment.

  9. Thanks so much for getting in depth on that, Jeff. Really brings some interesting things to light to think about readers in this way.

    We in the blogging world tend to group readers into labels that work for us – lukers v. commenters v. bloggers. And I often wonder – how can I turn a lurker into an active participant on this blog? But this type of information makes me think, maybe that’s not exactly the right question.

    It certainly puts a new spin on things to think about the blogger’s responsibility to keep all the different types of personalities in mind when creating copy. Though it probably takes more work, it seems worthwhile to ask yourself “is there something in this post for everyone?”

    Thanks again!

  10. Fantastic article indeed.

  11. Marilla,

    Just an interesting tidbit, but Scott McCloud of Understanding Comics fame had his first major success with a comic strip whose major characters were developed based on Jung’s four proposed types of human thought: intuition, feeling, intellect, and sensation. It’s not an exact overlay to temperaments but it’s close enough to be interesting nonetheless. The name of the strip was Zot and you can read a little about it here.

    If you haven’t already read them, I’d highly recommend both Understanding Comics and his follow on book, Making Comics.

    -Jeff

  12. I love all the content on copyblogger, but this one by Jeff was the first that stayed in my head all day. I saw it in my feed reader this morning and I kept coming back to it over and over.

    Just fabulous, Jeff. What a way to connect headlines with characters and what drives them. Wait a minute…I’ve just been reminded that that’s Copywriting 101. D’oh!

  13. Very nifty, I am all bleeding over reading this beautiful and engaging post.

  14. Jeff…

    I am quite familiar with Scott McCloud’s books but thanks for the tip. I however did not know that Zot characters were based on the idea of 4 different types of thought. Intriguing. I’ll definitely have to do some digging on that.

    Thanks again for a great post!

  15. Dead on. I considered the personality concept a few months ago. I was writing a philosophy blog but was writing in a near-pundit style. I’ve since dumped the style for a more “cautious” and analytical approach to find my readership explode.

  16. What a great post. I like the characters in the show too, so it was cool to see you do the analysis on them. I won’t be buying a magazine anytime soon, even though I’m very curious as to what “the thing” is.

  17. Hi Jeff, cool post. Being new, I never thought about the how appealing to certain temperaments when writing a blog post can make a difference. Funny thing is that I think about this when talking to people face to face. So yeah, taking notes. :)

  18. Brilliant post.

    Your 4-DISC personality link is spot-on.

    I’ve always noticed the four-some friendship circle that’s represented in many shows over time.

    I had begun to put my finger on the fact that regardless of the show involved, those four main characters always appear to have the same four basic personalities.

    Thanks for sharing the insight!

  19. Latarsha,

    If you are interested in this sort of thing, I highly recommend listening to this audio book/podcast from Dr. Richard Grant at The Wizard Academy – you’ll be blown away.

  20. impressive. Gustav Jung has taught you well!

  21. (oh, gosh. I wrote my comment before reading yours, Jeff!)

  22. I couldn’t not to notice SEXton talks about SEX and the City ;)

  23. wow.. what an incredible article! This was clever.. I wish I wrote it :) But that’s alright, benefiting from it’s wisdom will serve me just fine.

    I think this will be something I can easily implement on my blog..
    thanks!

  24. Hi Jeff – What an absolutely brilliant post. I have been noticing that some of my blog headlines attract more attention than others.

    Now, I’m going to try using this article to test different headlines. And hopefully if will teach me a lot more about my readers too. Thank you.

  25. I love this. I want to swipe this idea and do an analysis on communication/perception styles on Gilligan’s Island or The Brady Bunch or something. Absolutely brilliant to peg the abstract labels to concrete characters (assuming one’s seen the show).

  26. I take it Jim is not the target reader for this SATC-inspired post, since he’s not as familiar with the characters.

    As silly as the show could be sometimes, I know a lot of women who very strongly identify with one particular character and would thusly respond to headlines written according to these archetypes. I’m a Charlotte, no doubt about it.

  27. impressive. Gustav Jung has taught you well!

  28. Interesting though process there. It got me to thinking more deeply about the way I present my blog posts. I’ve even tweaked a draft post title while reading this.

  29. Fruitulvine2,

    Glad to hear it helped. Let me know how the post turns out!

    – Jeff

  30. Love this article! We must know our target audience to speak a message that pertain to their values, belief and interest.

  31. Wow, I love the content on your blog, keep up the great work!

  32. I’ve got to learn how to improve and use better headlines for articles. This is a really good start.

  33. Thanks, Frankie. There’ll be more headline stuff to come this winter.