We wrote about the concept of “framing” before, knowing full well that marketing and framing are like Laurel and Hardy, they go hand in hand. As marketers, business owners and principals, knowing the effects of framing will help our decision-making processes and influence our leadership integrity for the better considering we are quite often unaware of the thoughts behind the construction of a campaign.
How we are often “framed”
Framing is about the way we pass on our messages. By choosing our words carefully and constructing and organising messages in a specific way, we aspire to achieve a certain effect. Thereby, framing defines the relation between the information and its context.
The different effects messages have on audiences when we use small variations in the construct of sentences or words has been studied extensively throughout time. For example:
A woman asks people waiting in line for the copier if she could use it first. In half of the cases, she asks them using the first line as stated below and in the other half of the cases she uses the second line:
- Excuse me, I have five pages, could I use the copier?
- Excuse me, I have five pages, I need to make some copies, could I use the copier?
The second line resulted in a positive response about 93% of the time while the first line only resulted in a 60% positive response rate. Why is there such a big difference between the results?Simple: because she gives a reason for wanting to go first in the second sentence and as humans, we tend to believe that the reason she has must me a valid one (bias).
Another well-known example of how we will come to another judgment of value is the following: in a study, respondents were shown a video of a car accident. After being shown that video, respondents were asked how fast the cars were going before impact. The question was asked in two different ways:
- How fast were the cars going when they came into contact with each other?
- How fast were the cars going when they crashed into each other?
The respondents who were given the question that used the word “crashed” gave a much higher speeding estimate than the respondents who were given the question with the words “came into contact”. This can be explained by the way the second question suggests more force than does the first question. The association of “contact” or touch is soft while most of us will have the association of aggression and hardness with the word “crash”.
These examples prove that our subconscious is influenced by the associations we have learned from our social environments and by the emotions these associations trigger in us (subconsciously).
Using cognitive bias in marketing
As marketers, we try to find ways to use cognitive biases in our campaigns along with the wishes, attitudes and referential moments of our target audience(s). For example, Axe used the desire of young men to be the centre of attention and to feel like somewhat of a “sex god” in their deodorant campaign. In their commercials, Axe insinuated that by using Axe you would know how to seduce the ladies. They cleverly used the insecurity of their target audience by addressing the insecure man and the man in need of more attention and by framing them to believe that they would be more successful in the lady department when using Axe.
More commonly used framing examples are the ways marketers use language to frame a product in the minds of their target audience. We avoid using words with negative associations like expensive or cheap and use more positively primed words like luxurious and affordable. Another common framing technique used in marketing is the loss and gain effect:
- This steak is 75% lean meat.
- This steak has 25% fat.
Most consumers would be inclined to prefer the first steak because it has a focus on the positive element (gain): eating 75% lean meat just sounds healthier. The other sentence focuses on the negative being “fat”, which activates negative associations for most consumers. On the other hand, if you want your target audience to stop doing something (smoking for instance), one could decide to focus on the negative (loss) to create a confrontational aspect. Another way marketers use the loss effect is by framing messages through focusing on the aversion of loss. Think of a limited edition that will only be available for a limited amount of time.
Needless to say, framing is not limited to the use of words. Images play an important part in framing techniques as well. Whatever construction they might use, most framing techniques are used to influence target audiences in the parts of the brain most sensitive to suggestion. Marketing campaigns usually focus on strengthening or changing the self-image of their audiences (who you are and who you would like to become).
From framing to conversion
Framing is key to online marketing just as much as it is in general marketing. Most brands are using the online domain to frame their products and services, creating associations with a certain motivation their target audiences are known to have. For instance, by using images that depict the dream life or ideals of their target audiences, brands frame their product as part of a (desirable) lifestyle. It is exactly this framing technique the Kardashians used to brand their products via social media.
Lóréal is known for their famous and successful framing in their (online and offline) campaigns aimed at women. The slogan “because you’re worth it” is directed at the sense of a woman’s self-worth and the campaign responds to the personal vulnerability felt by the average woman. The campaign is meant to eliminate any doubts that could stop women from spending money on themselves, granting them permission to have pride in their appearance. The brand succesfully frames this message through words and images. Because of their auspicious frames the campaign also stimulated their conversion ratio online.
Another way brands frame their products and services is by placing emphasis on a certain motivation, adjusting all online marketing to that motivational factor in order to create a strong association with the desired emotion that appeals to their target audiences. This could be the word “fun”, meaning the brand would do anyting and everyting to make every step of the customer journey enjoyable.
Framing in online marketing is also in the details. Not every element of framing is big, bold and sexy. By using specific words and constructing metatexts that offer insight into how an article, service or product can be used to the benefit of the target audience or how it will prevent a loss will often lead to a higher conversion ratio. This part of framing is just as important as every other statement a brand makes.
The moral objections to framing in marketing
Marketing agencies are always balancing and compromising. Most marketers will come across campaigns in which they question if their actions are ethical. This is often the case when their work is focused on reaching the more vulnerable audiences like the elderly, children, pregnant women and teens for these are the audiences most sensitive to suggestion.
This balance of ethics resulted in our ongoing discussion about the effects of using emaciated women in campaigns on the self-image of children and teens.
Another well-known example of framing in which a marketer can be confronted with moral objections is when it comes to faith and politics: IS and other (religious) coalitions construct distorted worldviews amongst parts of the population using framing in a long-term setting. They are highly skilled at using framing techniques to construct an image that is in line with their personal agenda and these campaigns have far-reaching effects. We might call that propaganda but it is, in essence, nothing more than a more extreme marketing campaign in which cognitive bias and framing are used, often resulting in traumatic and world shocking events (like Trump becoming president).
That leads to my question to you: what is acceptable to you and what isn’t? Chances are your answer will differ from mine or from that of your colleague. Everyone has their own perspective filled with biases.
Whatever you do: choose carefully, remain conscious.