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There are numerous definitions of the term ‘framing’ in social sciences. The many definitions arise from the fact that the term is used in various aspects of life. Framing is not only commonly used in social sciences, but it is also used in communication, marketing, business, and advertising.
Hurlstone et al. (2014) explain that the most widely accepted definition of the term framing is that it is a way of creating, designing, and projecting messages in an attempt to communicate reality as believed at that particular moment.
Thus, framing can be used in political communication, in mass media and public speaking, and in sensitization messages. This essay develops the concept of framing in an attempt to come up with a customized, yet applicable, definition of the term. In addition, the article discusses the impact of framing in various aspects of social life.
Framing and Communication
Xue (2015) explains that in order to communicate one has to draft the message in a way that can be received and interpreted in the way the sender desired. This is only possible if the sender has to frame the message to fit the educational level of the receiver and the channel being used. Therefore, the two aspects are also part of framing.
The educational level of the receiver is important in framing and communication because it profoundly determines the understating of the message. For example, in a classroom, the teacher is the sender of the message in most cases, and the students are the receivers. It is expected that the teacher has an extensive vocabulary than the students.
The teacher will have to tone down the vocabulary to a level that the students can understand to communicate effectively with his or her students.
In terms of the channel used, it is important that the characteristics of the channel be considered before the message is sent. Imagine a billboard; many people just have a few seconds to look at a billboard. Thus, any writing on the board should be read in a few seconds.
If someone writes a whole paragraph on the board, then the message will not be received as desired because part of it will not be read. Therefore, framing allows the advertiser to use as few words as possible to say everything they want to say, thereby allowing the target audience to read the whole message.
Pavey and Churchill (2014) explain that framing in communication can be analysed in a positive and a negative manner. The audience and the content of the message shape framing to be positive or negative.
For example, in political campaigns, messages that are sent out tend to target low-income families because they are the biggest voting economic block in many countries. Thus, the messages will be simplified, full of pure humour, and try to excite the people on how the candidate will help their situation.
Many countries, especially the third world countries, have had unfair elections. Some have even fought during elections. It would be correct to argue that the wars and tension are caused by messages being passed around (Gallagher & Updegraff, 2012).
Politicians all over the world have been accused of framing messages to give negative comments. In addition, the concept of hate speech has also proven that framing of political messages can be negative in nature. As mentioned, farming can also be positive.
Bruijn, Out, and Rhodes (2014) explain that messages can be framed to congratulate, console, agree, and bless. Such activities are very positive in nature.
It suffices to mention that framing has also been referred to as emphasis frames in some situations (Jacks & Lancaster, 2015). When emphasis is put in a word, phrase or sentence, then the message has been framed so.
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For example, if a man tells his friend, “No, he fired ME!” and another man tells his friend “NO! He fired me”, then the two men mean different things. The sentence might be the same, but the emphasis placed on different words makes the receiver of the message decode the message according to the emphasis.
In the first sentence, the sender means that he was the only one who got fired. Moreover, he is not happy about it because he cannot possibly imagine that he is the one who was fired. It could be that he expected someone else to get fired. The receiver of this sentence will decode it after the stressed “ME”.
Looking at the second sentence, one will notice that the stress is on “NO”. Thus, the receiver will decode the message to mean that there was another option apart from being fired. If the second sender meant what the first sender said, then the framing effect would be wrong, and there would be miscommunication.
Framing and Marketing
Marketing and advertising go hand in hand. As mentioned, framing is crucial in advertising. Marketing campaigns use framing to hit the nail on the head with the fewest words possible. An example of a major marketing campaign can be used to elaborate this statement further.
Cigarette advertising has been banned for a while now in many countries. In fact, many of the adverts about cigarette smoking are about its ill effects on health. However, before the ban, there was one media campaign that was very common; that of a Marlboro man smoking cigarettes.
The man appeared to be from the Wild West; thus, he was perceived by the audience to be strong and manly. The campaign was framed to expose ‘maleness’, strength, and being macho when one smoked the brand. People started smoking cigarettes because they wanted to be associated with the man in the advertisement.
Today, however, the same Marlboro man is used to stop cigarette smoking. Adverts that have the man show him talking to his horse explaining how they regret smoking because it has affected their health. This example can also be used to show how framing can be both positive and negative.
Framing was negative when it encouraged smoking, while it became positive when it started discouraging smoking (Point Reyes Station, 2010).
In the same breath, framing has been used in marketing to ensure the sale of products. Yan (2015) reveals that customers buy things they are convinced to buy. There are three main ways through which an individual is convinced to buy something.
The first is through the word of mouth, where a friend or family member tells the individual about the product. The second way is through advertising and marketing campaigns, while the third way is through curiosity (Churchill, Good, & Pavey, 2014).
Given that companies cannot control word of mouth and curiosity as much as they want, they mainly focus on advertising and marketing campaigns. Frame Work Institute (2005) explains that there are several things that have to be considered when framing a message for marketing.
These are the context, numbers, messengers, visuals, metaphors, and tone. The context means the place and time in which the message will be passed. For example, marketing campaigns that involve a lot of dancing and music will never start in the morning. In the same breath, marketing beer will go hand in hand with dancing and music.
However, marketing a flour package will not. The numbers refer to the people who the message targets. If the number is smaller, then the message can be customized even further. The people who pass the message also matter. For example, women who have very nice hair will do the marketing of a feminine hair product.
The sender of the marketing message also has to think about the visuals, if there will be any that can make the campaign more successful. Cox et al. (2014) assert that there are some adverts that do not use words, but simple visuals to pass their message.
Additionally, the metaphors and tones that are used in the message have to go hand in hand with the meaning. For example, the advert of a painkiller will have a serious tone or a sick tone showing sickness and a happy tone showing relief.
However, it would be ironic to have a pleasant tone when the person is in pain or a sad tone throughout the advert.
Framing and Political Campaigns
Kopp (2006) argues that political campaigns are full of propaganda. Using this argument, it would be correct to state that framing in political campaigns is done to enhance propaganda. There are four main types of framing used in political campaigns, according to Kopp (2006). The first is the denial of information.
The scholar explains that many political campaigns tend to make ‘sufficient noise like’ arguments that are hard to decode. This is usually done in the wrong channel so that the receiver is also unable to hear properly.
Denial in political campaigns also relies on framing. Politicians call each other out and then go ahead and deny the accusations made against them. The politicians have to make sure that their denials stick in order to convince the public of their innocence.
This can only be done if the message sent is short and precise. Gainforth, Cao, and Latimer-Cheung (2012) add that denial does not have to be outright. Destruction of the opponent can also do it. Thus, the accused individual can destroy the reputation of his or her accuser in order to avoid further embarrassment.
Nan et al. (2015) also agree that corruption is part of farming in a political campaign. Politicians have been known to buy votes. The practice is done directly because it is illegal. The messages that are passed are usually hidden in colloquial languages and other metaphors that only the involved can understand.
The last type of framing used in political campaigning is subversion. Kopp (2006) defines subversion as the incorporation of information that helps the system self-destruct. In fact, it is arguable that this is the most common type of framing in politics today. One just has to start a rumour and let it grow.
The rumour will eventually raise other issues due to the already shady personality associated with many politicians, thereby causing self-destruction to the politician.
Adverts on political parties and campaigns also use framing to be effective. For example, during President Obama’s campaign, the adverts had one punch line; “Yes we can”. The punch line was short, catchy, and positive; thus, it became very common among the voters.
Impact and Role of Framing
Drawing from the discussion presented, framing is critical in marketing and politics. All messages are framed, regardless of whether they are positive or negative. There are various impacts of framing that rely on whether the message being passed is positive or negative.
However, it is important to know the role of framing before a discussion on the implications of framing is given.
Kao et al. (2013) explain that the major role of framing is to enhance communication by ensuring that the message sent is received as expected. In addition, another role of framing is to manage time in communication. As mentioned, there are times when the time for communication is limited, for example, in advertising.
In such cases, the message has to be shortened, but retains the same impact a longer version would. Farming is used to achieve this objective.
One impact of framing is its effect on behaviour. Using the marketing campaign already mentioned, farming encouraged people to start smoking and discouraged them from smoking too. It is due to this impact on behaviour that framing is studied under social sciences as well, not just in communication.
Similarly, President Obama’s “Yes we can” campaign was not only used for the political campaign, but also in other aspects of life. It was adopted by many non-governmental organizations to encourage people caught in difficult situations.
Looking at Obama’s political campaign, his slogan changed the way people voted because it helped them believe in his presidency.
Framing also makes communication easy. As mentioned, the sender of the message has to know the characteristics of the receiver in order to frame the message in an appropriate way. One of the biggest causes of miscommunication is the misunderstanding caused by language use.
If a mother talks to a baby in technical terms after the baby has done something wrong, then the child will not understand anything and probably make the mistake again.
The mother has to speak to the child in simple language using things that the child can understand to ensure that the child understands. This will most likely make the baby avoid the mistake in the future.
In conclusion, framing is imperative because it shapes communication. Everything that is done in the society depends on proper communication.
Thus, framing can be defined as the careful alignment of words and phrases to pass messages of reality in the exact way desired by the sender and received in a similar fashion by the receiver of the message. The characteristics of both the sender and the receiver are considered in the process.
The main role of framing is to enhance communication. It also ensures that the time given for communication is spent wisely. Two of the most prominent areas of society that depend on framing are marketing and politics. In marketing, messages are framed to help sell a product.
The messages are usually short, contain many adjectives, and can include propaganda. In the same breath, political campaigns rely on farming to enhance propaganda.
Frameworks Institute 2005, Framing public issues, Frameworks Institute, Washington, DC.
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