The Framing Effect: What marketers need to know about this cognitive bias

Cognition Agency
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‘The Framing Effect’ is one of the typical cognitive biases which affects how decisions are made based on the way in which information is presented to us. 

If you have recently read our guide, ‘4 Big Challenges for Brands in 2024 and How to Solve Them Using Psychology’, you’ll  know that one of the main challenges we see amongst businesses is creating effective messaging. Not only are businesses struggling to communicate effectively but they are drowning in a pool of competitors who all happen to be boasting near-identical features and capabilities across their products and services. 

In this article we focus on The Framing Effect, understanding this bias will enable you to make your content both more powerful and actionable. 

What is The Framing Effect?

The Framing Effect is one of the typical cognitive biases which affects how decisions are made based on the way in which information is presented to us. 

The principle highlights the importance of focusing on how information is presented rather than the information itself. For instance concentrating on positive rather than negative attributes is much more likely to evoke a response. 

To give an example, businesses that are based in finance and focus on the potential rewards rather than losses are much more likely to see a positive response to their messaging and content. (See losses vs gains below.) 

Our choices on a daily basis are all influenced by the way options are framed, whether that be through messaging, imagery or emphasis. 

How Can the Framing Effect Be Used?

The Framing Effect can be used in many different ways to create more effective content. Each of the following factors should be taken into consideration:

  • Cognitive load: It’s important to take into account the cognitive load we require from our consumers when making a decision. To speed up decision-making, the human brain uses heuristics - quick and simple mental short-cuts, which enable us to process significant amounts of information and quickly make decisions, albeit these may be at the expense of accuracy.  

Most people favour information that is quick and easy to digest when making decisions. Therefore, options that are framed in an easy to consume way are likely to be favoured over those that are hard to understand. 

  • Losses vs gains: Framing content to focus on gains rather than losses is a further way to ensure maximum effectiveness. The Loss Aversion Bias (coming later in the series) is a cognitive bias that explains why the pain of losing is psychologically about twice as powerful as the pleasure of gaining. Messages which are framed around gaining, focus on achieving a desirable outcome as opposed to loss-framed messages which highlight attaining an undesirable outcome. 

An obvious example of this comes from  pharmaceuticals, where a drug can be referred to as ‘curing 99% of headaches’ rather than ‘only 1% of consumers reported a headache after taking the medication’.

  • Emotional appeal: In our guide we spoke in detail about the 'Elaboration Likelihood Model' - a reminder of the need to blend both rational and emotional appeals in your messaging to maximise cut-through. It is essential to consider how messaging is weighted and whether we are looking to elicit an emotional or rational response. 

Framing relies on emotional appeals , therefore using imagery, case study and video content that directly speaks to your audience at an emotional level is much more likely to get a positive response than long- form written content which is typically more rational and requires more cognitive load. 

  • Auditory and visual framing: When planning out different types of content formats and thinking about the channels you are using - both auditory and visual framing are key. When choices are presented, the tone of voice, expressions and body language we use can greatly affect the response of the consumer. This is especially important for teams that are carrying-out face-to-face pitching or selling. 

Likewise, factors as straightforward as colour, images, font style and font size are all examples of  visual frames which can have an impact on decision making.

Applying the Framing Effect

According to research from Psychology Today, we each make upwards of 35,000 choices per day. Based on the average person being awake for 17 hours each day, that equates to roughly 2,000 decisions per hour. With this in mind, every piece of content you share with your audience should apply the following:

  • Speed and simplicity. Make your information as quick to understand and digest as possible. Remove cliche or repetitive statements which add no value to your audience. Reduce cognitive load at all costs. 

  • Limit choices you present to drive action and avoid information overload. 

  • Maximise emotional response through imagery, case studies and powerful statistics which your audiences can relate to.

  • Don’t forget the impact of visual framing both online and offline. Less words and more visuals on presentations. Positive body language in person and imagery that resonates. Both auditory and visual cues are key for positive framing. 

  • Consider the loss aversion bias when presenting facts and statistics, losses weigh much heavier than gains and therefore framing your messaging around gaining will be much more effective.


Contact the team at Cognition Agency for all your digital marketing requirements.