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.)