Words. Probably the one thing my husband and I fought the MOST about in our first few years of marriage…oh no wait! We STILL do! Even though we’ve been married for five and a half years, and have known each other for TEN!!! We STILL can’t get this word thing right. Shakespeare said “what’s in a name?”, I say “What’s in a word!?”. Much more than we dare to admit.

Be honest, you know what I’m talking about cause it happens to you too! Ever been in an argument with a friend, spouse, parent, co-worker or whomever, where you get angry not so much because of what they’re trying to say, but rather because of the WAY they say it? An example. We came back from our honeymoon and were visiting some family when someone very near and dear to us said to me “Ooooh! you looked SO much prettier last time I saw you!!”. Now in their mind, they were giving me a compliment, telling me I looked amazing on my wedding day. I know this because she is not a malicious person, so no hidden daggers. I on the other hand received it as “you reaaaaaaly don’t look very nice today!”. My sister who overheard this comment, came to me to affirm that I DID in fact look nice. How we string words together MATTERS.

But the CONTEXT in which we use these words are just as important as the words themselves. I heard a radio ad recently where they spoke about whether you should be happy or terrified when you hear the word increase. When it deals with money, definitely YES, while with your weight…not so much. In the context of money the word increase is a positive thing. When used in the context of weight, it is negative. One of my communication theory books by Littlejohn and Foss explained it perfectly “You probably do not behave the same way with your best friend as you do with your parents, and it is unlikely that the self you present to a professor is the same one you present at a party”. You get what I’m saying. Context and words go hand in hand.

In Behavioural Economics terms, this idea is called framing. It’s when you say something in a particular way, in order to bring forth certain behavour. YET in order to do that effectively you need to keep the person’s context in mind. If I haven’t been to the gym in a while and receive a negative motivation message such as “if you don’t exercise more than two and a half hours per week, you will be unhealthy”, it will demotivate me. Why? Because I know I should exercise and all you’re doing is reminding me of what a failure I am and that I can’t stick to my commitments. Yet, the same message can be sent to an exercise bunny and they would probably get in their car IMMEDIATELY because they want to make 100% sure they stay healthy! There is no concrete proof yet that this is in fact the case, but there was definite indications of this in my research done last year.

So, now that you get the theory, let’s deal with a marketing or communication example. I’ll use another previous Cannes winner. Yes it’s a little weird I know BUT just look past it with a message framing and context lens.

Brazil had a problem. Organ donation was not framed in a way that resulted in people taking action, which I’m sure is the case for most countries. The usual “save a life” messaging didn’t work even though it was very true. The ad agency decided to look at the problem a little bit differently. They looked at the context of their audience. What was important to THEM? Their soccer team. What would make them take that step to become organ donors? What would motivate them if we know they are fanatical about their team? Being a fan forever. Again, it is a bit strange but just look at it and see how many lives were saved because of this campaign.

Was it Behavioural Economicly engineered? Probably not BUT just imagine the potential of a campaign that was developed with these two principles in mind: context of a message matters so frame your message to the context at hand!

As they say, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.

Note: pics courtesy of Google Images