Framing Effects in Advertising

Examples of framing

More examples of ‘framing effects’:

  • A take-away restaurant offers a free home delivery or a ten per cent discount if you pick up.

Rather than:

  • No discount for picking up and suffer a ten per cent fee for delivery.

Which sounds more appealing?

Recent experiments by David Hardisty and colleagues show how advertisers can ‘mindhack’ effectively using the framing effect for green products.

Tax vs Offset

Hundreds of online participants in the US chose between various flights, computers and other products. In each case they could choose a cheaper option or a more expensive, greener option. The extra expense was either called a ‘tax’ to help reduce carbon emissions, or an ‘offset’ to do the same – two ways of ‘framing’ the same thing. When the ‘tax’ label was used, republicans and Independents were much less likely to choose the more expensive option compared to when the ‘offset’ label was used.

Another study in which participants shared their thoughts as they made their product choices revealed that when the expensive option was labelled as a tax, Republicans and Independents tended to weigh-up the advantages of the cheaper option first before they considered the benefits of the greener choice, regardless of which order the options were presented, and to generate biased supporting evidence for the cheaper product.

The same ‘tax’ vs ‘offset’ framing effects were not found for Democrats.

The researchers concluded that ‘What might seem like a trivial semantic difference to one person can have a large impact on someone else.’ In this case, different political preferences went with different framing sensitivities.


Hardisty, D., Johnson, E., & Weber, E. (2009). A Dirty Word or a Dirty World?: Attribute Framing, Political Affiliation, and Query Theory. Psychological Science, 21 (1), 86-92 DOI: 10.1177/0956797609355572

Enter your email for direct delivery of new articles:


I am a cognitive scientist with a joint Ph.D in cognitive psychology and neuroscience from the Center of the Neural Basis of Cognition (Carnegie Mellon/Pittsburgh). At IQ Mindware we develop brain training interventions to increase IQ, critical thinking, decision making, creativity and executive functioning.