The Power of Framing

In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom convinces some boys to pay him for the privilege of painting a fence for him. Tom reframed the job from a tedious task to a fun activity. This story supports the incredible influence that framing has on our perceptions and behavior.

Psychologists Kahneman and Tversky conducted a famous study that demonstrates the power of framing. They asked respondents to choose the best outcome to the following scenario. A disease outbreak is expected to kill 600 people. Option A would save 200 people while Option B had a 33.3% chance of saving everyone and 66.6% chance of saving no one. Although the options are mathematically identical, participants overwhelmingly chose option A.

They then reframed the options with a different group. Option A would kill 400 people while Option B had a 33.3% probability of killing no one but 66.6% probability of killing everyone. Participants overwhelmingly chose Option B. (Source

I think Apple is a great example of framing in marketing. When you walk into the store you are surrounded by great minimal design from the transparent glass doors to the clean wooden tables. The store presents the products like they are pieces of art on display in a modern art museum. Everything in the store frames the products to communicate tremendous value. Compare this to a clothing surplus store where items are put on racks with limited organization and the dressing rooms are piled high with unwanted garments. This store communicates cheapness in everything from the customer service to its strip mall location, which is exactly what these shoppers want. They want to get a great deal and perceive the items as less valuable.

A great example of framing is if you ask a Disney park cast member (janitor), what time the park closes. They will allegedly respond “the park is open until 10!”

Additional Resources:

Ad Framing Effects For Consumption Products: An Affect Priming Process Chingching Chang

The Framing Effect: Influence Your Audience By Setting The Context vanseodesign

Key takeaways: Familiarly can can increase likability. Too much familiarity can breed contempt which can lead to diminishing returns on repeat exposures to an advertisement.

Why Negative Ads Work: Framing, Emotions, and Irrational Decisions Nueromarketing

The Price of Framing & Anchoring Why We Reason

Predictably Irrational Framing the Dialogue

Dan Ariely asks, Are we in control of our own decisions? (video)

Flickr Creative Commons photo courtesy of Mark Sabastian

Charles Sipe is a Freelance SEO Specialist. You can reach him at csipe84(at) and follow him on Twitter at @charlessipe.