The importance of framing in communications

In Christopher Nolan’s 2010 masterpiece, Inception, Arthur (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) asks Saito (played by Ken Watanabe), “If I say to you, don’t think about elephants what do you think about?”.

Saito responds: “Elephants”.

That is the easiest explanation of framing in communications (and persuasion).

The ‘elephants’ may have been inspired by George Lakoff’s book, “Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate Paperback”, first published in 1990.

Another famous example is Nixon’s famous speech at the height of Watergate Scandal.

He told the people of America in a televised speech on November 17, 1973: “I am not a crook”

By uttering the word, he made people imagine a crook and put the person uttering it inside that character! There is a reason why Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not utter ‘China’ at all in his speeches about the recent border incursion and instead focuses only on what the Indian troops did (His voice is the most powerful voice at this point, on this topic, in India. When the collective sound of counter-voices increase and resonate strongly, he would be forced to address the elephant in the room directly).

The most basic rule of framing is to not utter or use the words that you do not want your audiences to remember within your context.

In this theme, I came across 2 recent examples of seeding the very thought that the brand is trying to avoid!

The first was not in advertising, but in product packaging. We have been having terrible luck with hand-blenders. The first one my wife ordered had not-so-sharp blades and did not mash properly. Returned.

The next one was this – Orpat! The box has, on 3 sides, in big, bold letter: “Jalta Nahi, Chalta Hai”!

Are we supposed to know that Orpat’s hand-blenders may (or hand-blenders in general) emit a shock, or burn us (jalta hai)? Thankfully, for the brand we stumble on this sentence after the purchase, and not during the time they are asking us to consider their brand (in marketing and advertising).

Even if our primary considerations to choose a hand-blender were the blade’s sharpness, the motor-power/speed, use of stainless-steel and easy washability, Orpat frames the most important thing that we should know about them as, “It doesn’t burn, it works!”.

(PS: We returned this too, since the motor power was not adequate. We finally got an Inalsa hand-blender. Thanks to Amazon’s return policy.)

The second example is from Pepsi’s Kurkure.

There’s a very famous internet hoax about how Kurkure is made with ‘pl*****’! It perhaps started as a joke, and there are tons of videos online where people try to burn Kurkure and show how it keeps on burning, like ‘p’, and leaving some oily residue! The truth is, most ready-made snacks that have starch may burn just like that, and Kurkure has become the default face of such snacks, in this hoax.

Even though Pepsi has cried hoarse that this is just a hoax and has even gone to the Court, the jokes and the association continues. It’s also partly because, Pepsi, like the gigantic MNC they are, also took down completely random jokes about the association, even when it was clear that the intention was not to allege the association but to make a joke on the viral thought/meme. I assume team-Pepsi is using brute-force search of social media and is shooting down every single mention, no matter what the context.

Pepsi is now trying to search for the association and reply to them, one at a time! In doing so, the emphasis seems more pronounced on ‘No p******’ than on any other element in the colorful creative.

It’s right at the center, with incredible prominence. Removed of any other context, that seems like an awkward framing. A better way would be to focus on every other element and reduce the prominence of “p******”. And not mention the ‘p’ word in their own tweet at all, talk about every other aspect, including the actual ingredients and focus on merely mentioning that what was tweeted is a hoax, and is false.



2 thoughts on “The importance of framing in communications

  1. This reminds me of an old joke in packaging design. Packaged food or personal care items would advertise on their packaging that their product is xyz free, thus implicating their competition of having xyz in theirs. E.g. if say Pepsi started saying their cola is cocaine free, without any risk of getting sued they are implying that Coke has cocaine.

    Of course when your product is part of a lore and long running memes & jokes, it’s not so smart to call it out and draw all the focus to that one thing.

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