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Apr 20 2009

The Science of Advertising and Internet Personals

Published by at 6:13 pm under Advice

In this essay we’re going to think about composing one of those Internet personal ads. These days running one of those ads can cost around $25.00 a month and people usually run these ads for a year or so, so you are looking at spending maybe a few hundred dollars on personal advertising. How will you know if the money is well spent?

“Well,” you say, “it attracts responses.” Fair enough. But mere responses aren’t enough.

A year ago I told the story of a woman who put up a bland profile with no essay and no picture, just answers to the multiple choice questions and within 24 hours she received a letter from a man who said that she was the woman of his dreams and he was just about to give up on Internet personals but then he read her profile and realized he’d found his dream partner and so on…So, clearly, just showing up on the pages can be like walking into a bad bar.

Eliminating the bad and attracting the good are two separate processes requiring separate skills. So , we’re going to talk about personal niche marketing. Looking for a match is not like running for class president or home-coming queen or state representative, or any other activity where you want to generate a huge list of positive responses. All you want is that one person who is good enough and capable enough to partner with you so you can create a great relationship.

Niche marketing is how things work in the wild. I have a biologist friend who spent some time in the forests of Guatemala. She said they found a flower they’d never seen before, which had an exceptionally long, thin stem. From that flower they knew that they would find a bird with an equally exceptionally long, thin beak. So it’s a law of life: Whatever you think is your best feature, then that’s the thing you want to hang out there to attract a partner. If it is something about yourself that you truly love, you can trust that there will be others who love it as well.

You want to start building on what you both believe is good about you.

Marty Seligman, in his book Authentic Happiness, reports on one of the most interesting, and counter-intuitive, findings about what makes relationships last. (He quotes in a 2002 study by Murray, Holms, Dolderman and Griffin in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.)

The more your partner is your biggest fan, tends to see you through rose colored glasses, exaggerates your virtues and minimizes your faults, the happier you will both be. The more your partner agrees with you about what you do best, the more stable the relationship. Even without systematic and scientific surveys, you’ve probably noticed this yourself. You’ve seen those couples where she’s his best audience for his jokes, where he thinks her long and gossipy stories are fascinating.

For so many people at midlife, there is a secret love, a corner of their own soul that they are afraid to embrace and claim for all the world to see and yet, because there is so much passion contained in it, they can no longer deny it.

This secret love is something they’ve always wanted to do but never did because, well, they don’t know why. For one person it was bugs and she went back to graduate school to study wasps. Another woman, who was a medical technician, finally admitted she’d always wanted to be a jazz singer. The movie, Shall We Dance, is about a married man discovering his secret love of dance. He doesn’t believe his wife would understand or share it and so he sneaks around going to dancing lessons. At midlife, many of us get these calls and we have to follow them.

If you have a partner who can believe in and support this love of yours, you will have a great relationship in the second half of your life. If you want a great relationship in the second half of your life, trust that what attracts you to yourself will also attract the partner you want.

Do not hide your light; let your light shine.

I know a man whose greatest joy in life is being what he calls, “Mr. Mom.” When he meets women, this part of him is something that he is reluctant to show. Yet I also interviewed a very happy midlife couple and the women has said to me, “What attracted me most to this man was the way he practiced his love for his children.” Another example: A man at forty fell in love with making photographs. The woman who now loves him said, “A man who cares passionately about beauty was such a foreign concept to me and yet, I don’t know how else I would have such loveliness in my life without him.”

This is niche marketing applied to personal ads. Figure out what your own special light is. It’s the secret love of your soul. Name it. and then let it shine.

Use the Let It Shine principle to shape your personal ads.

Here are two personal ads, one before and one after applying the Let It Shine Principle. Here is the before:

Sweet, sassy, Southern Steel Magnolia, slender, many interests, photography, planting flowers, painting watercolors, reading, and refinishing and decorating furniture.   You would be a solvent and kind gentleman who likes good conversations, discussing news, one who is affectionate, compromising and active.  I am searching for a faithful lifetime partner.

Before I became a psychologist I was an associate creative director in advertising agencies. When one of our professionals would write an ad like that we’d say, “Hey, that looks just like an ad.” That was our way of saying that it had all the superficial appearance of an ad, but no life. In the same way, A mask is like a face, just not as interesting.

In helping this not-really-all-that-sassy woman re-write her ad, I was acting both as a creative director and as a psychologist. In my psychologist mode, I asked her questions about herself that she enjoyed thinking about – what made her life interesting and fun for her and why. She said, “It’s like those essays in English composition class.” I listened to her answers in my creative director mode. Whenever I heard a spontaneous and heartfelt sentence, I wrote it down. Eventually, we’d accomplished two things. We’d figured out what she really did want in a relationship. And we figured out how to ask for it in a compelling way, in a way that could capture the attention of someone else who wanted the same things.

Here’s what we ended up with:

I am looking for a man who wants to share a quiet life sprinkled with a few rowdy moments. I plant flowers, paint, take pictures, decorate furniture and I also hoot and run bases with my grandchildren. I am happiest when I am doing something gentle and making someone else feel good. I also enjoyed screaming at an Elvis concert.

If you take care of my car, I will do your laundry. If you pick up your own clothes and put them in their place, I will reward you with lots of hugs. If you want to be alone, I’ll let you be. A lot of times I like to be by myself, too. I will listen to you as you listen to me. If you join me in watching a movie, taking a walk, and swinging in the swing with ice tea, I will attend a sporting event with you.

In some senses the second ad is quieter and more vulnerable. The stuff about being “sassy” and a “steel magnolia” does not attract or distract us – and who knows what those things really mean.  Instead we have a sense of the day-to-day and deeply genuine pleasures this person finds in her life. There’s warmth, flesh and blood in this ad. When we read it we get a sense of a real person with a beating heart.

Is this attractive?

Not to everyone. Someone who liked exotic travel, off-Broadway theater, or grass-roots political organizing would probably not answer this ad. And that would be a good thing. A good ad, because it is specific, turns away as powerfully as it attracts.

This is the heart of how attraction works at midlife. What is charismatic is the act of recognizing and cherishing your true self and of being happy with what satisfies your soul.

Want to try this for yourself? Write me at to arrange for four sessions to clarify your vision for a great relationship and, in the process, to create a personal ad that works.

Also, “What’s my next step?” So what can relationship coaching do for you? It’s easy to run out of flexibility and creativity when you are trying to figure out a new relationship. Sometimes, all you need is one new idea to take a relationship the next step. Write me at to arrange for a complimentary “next step” coaching session.

Thanks again.

Philip Belove, Ed.D.

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