A Few Observations on Framing and Language

One of the important things you’ll have to do many times in your advertising career is craft language to frame a topic a certain way. This simply means that you control how someone looks at an idea. What perspective are they viewing it from and how are they judging it?

You obviously can’t always control how someone perceives your idea, but with the right language and the right tone, you certainly can influence it. Here are some examples:

1) Setting up your work for a client. I like to let the client know, as I set up the work we’re showing, how I judged the work and what I think it has going for it. This doesn’t always mean they’ll agree, but it lets them understand where I’m coming from before they form their own opinion. Or I’ll ask them to put their 12-year-old boy hat on (or whatever the target is) for a moment as they listen to the script.

2) Is there a completely different strategic approach? When my agency did a campaign for Brita Water Filters, which had always been about super-clean water without impurities, someone had the smart idea to re-frame the issue to be about conservation. Because a good deal of the plastic water bottles that people use end up in landfills or circling the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Here’s another example, the likes of which you’ve probably seen in hotel bathrooms.

The cynic in me sees those signs and thinks, “Yeah, right. The hotel’s just trying to save money on laundry.” Which may be true, but it is helping the environment too, and in the end I reuse my towels.

3. Word choice for the little things. Consider these possible call-to-actions in a banner ad:
Click here to visit blah.com.
Discover more at blah.com.
Start the journey at blah.com.
They’re all asking me to do basically the same thing, but each sets my expectations for blah.com. Is there a better way to say what you want?

Here’s another example that always strikes me when I see it. Rather than the typical SELL BY DATE, some drinks have the much more promising ENJOY BY date.

Framing is not about tricking anyone. It’s about asking someone to consider something from a different viewpoint. And if you have any questions as to whether it’s important, I invite you to listen to this episode of one of my favorite podcasts, Radiolab. In it, they discuss the potential effect of Obama’s election on the academic performance of African-American students, as well as how the simple act of framing a test (i.e. the language used to say what the test measures) can have a huge impact on test scores.

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