The Framing Effect is a cognitive bias that explains how we react differently to things depending on how they are presented to us. Being aware of and manipulating the way information is presented can highly influence how it is received. Framing something in a certain way – through the use of image, words, context, etc. – will shape assumptions and perceptions about it. Whether the positive gains or the negative losses are highlighted will make a big difference.
Generally, positive framing will spur people into action and encourage possible risk-taking whereas negative framing will lead people to inaction or cessation of something. Framing information negatively (loss-framed messaging) is widely used to try and scare people into better behaviour or into not doing something. The government and media use it regularly to shock us into not: smoking, drinking and driving, voting for an opponent, taking a risk with career or lifestyle, etc. It has widely been thought to be more motivating than positive framing because of the simple fact that it does shock and scare, meaning it will possibly stay with you for longer. However, recent studies done by O’Keefe & Jensen (2008) have shown that we actually react better to positive framing. Positive framing can lead to happier thoughts, more motivated actions and greater synergy with the message provider. We don’t like to be bullied by governments, chastised and told what we should or shouldn’t do. But perhaps if they instead highlighted all the positive outcomes of making a certain decision – say, rather than concentrating on the horror of lung cancer to encourage people to quit smoking, they highlighted how much money you’d save, how white your teeth would be and how much healthier and fitter you could become – then they might find a more positive reaction in return.
In advertising and marketing especially, it is important to frame your messages in the correct way. Generally it’s better to use positive framing, as you want your brand to be associated with positive, motivational feelings that lead people to act (buy your product, give to your charity, sign your subscription). Framing your messages in a positive light – pointing out all the benefits that could be gained – should help to encourage people to buy into the lifestyle you’re selling and also to give them positive thoughts associated with your brand. However, there may be instances where negative framing will have the desired effect (for example, a charity during crisis times may get a better reaction from detailing all the horrors of the crisis) so it is important to ensure that framing is carefully considered and correctly chosen.