The profound art of copywriting isn’t something we can learn in one day.
It takes years, experience and of course, numerous tests to find out the copywriting tactic and specific words and phrases that give the highest return on investment (ROI) for our business.
Today, we will learn one such copywriting strategy: Positive Framing vs Negative Framing.
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So how did this framing-based copywriting technique come about in the first place?
Framing originated from psychology where it’s an example of cognitive bias.
Framing, as defined by the dictionary, is “the way in which something is framed”.
Meaning that framing is not about what is said. Instead, It’s about how it is said.
Framing is perceptual. And in the copywriting context, framing is done through the use of loaded words.
Every statement includes some positive or negative terms. There are no neutral words which neither incline towards positive or negative.
For instance, “lives saved” is positive while “lives lost” is negative.
Positive framing focuses on getting something. Where we talk about the benefit of gain.
It’s also more promotion-oriented, highlighting things such as progress and growth.
Here are some positive words you can use:
- Get… Now
- Grab… Today
- Save (Money, Time etc.)
Negative framing focuses on losing something. Where we talk about the fear of loss or fear of missing out (FOMO).
It’s also more prevention-oriented, highlighting things such as stopping problems before they occur.
Besides instilling fear, we also remind the audience of pain and provide them with solutions on how they can avoid this pain.
Negatively-framed message emphasizes the risks, threats, dangers as well as urgency. And when you don’t solve this problem immediately, it will lead to dire consequences.
Here are some negative words you can use:
- Don’t Let…
- Don’t Lose…
- Don’t Miss Out On…
- Get Rid Of…
- Never Miss A Post
- Stop Using…
- Stop Wasting (Money, Time etc.)
So… Who Wins?
An experiment about treatment options presented positively and negatively for a hypothetical disease was conducted.
- Positive Framing: A 33% chance of saving all 600 people, 66% possibility of saving no one.
- Negative Framing: A 33% chance that no people will die, 66% probability that all 600 will die.
Guess which framing won?
Although both statements essentially mean the same thing, 72% of participants chose the treatment when it’s framed positively compared to 22% when framed negatively.
Therefore, the conclusion is that positive framing works better than negative framing.
Many have argued that this is due to…
Positive Framing = Attraction
Since positive framing focuses on gain and is crafted with positive words, it tends to make people happy. They are then likely to be attracted to the solution that you offer them.
Negative Framing = Repulsion
On the other hand, negative framing focuses on loss and is crafted with negative words. People will think of the unhappy situations they might face and will therefore be repulsed by your statement.
Bear in mind that people prefer to think positively and not dwell on negative thoughts. Hence, positively-framed messages tend to get better results than negatively-framed messages.
Always A/B Test
If you’re sick and the doctor presented the treatment in the above 2 ways, which one will you choose?
Of course, we’ll choose positive framing.
Who wants to be told that there’s a chance you might die? We’d rather be told that there’s a chance to be saved, right?
Hence, positive framing is likely to work better if your product or service is related to healthcare or concerning people’s lives.
But there’s always no clear 100% winner for other products or services.
You shouldn’t be assuming which framing works better and implementing the winner without testing. Instead, you should do an A/B test.
Whether positive or negative framing works better might differ depending on your product, service, industry, target audience etc.
Only after you’ve done numerous A/B tests with significant results, you will then know which way of framing works better for your business.
Write Both Framing & Test Them
Whether you’re writing a headline or body copy, try framing it in 2 ways: positive and negative.
Talk about the
- Positive benefits of using your products or services
- Negative outcomes they might experience if they don’t use your products or services
Let’s try doing some simple exercises with different products and services.
- Positive: Save Money, Time & Headaches With Marketing Strategies That Double Your ROI
- Negative: Stop Wasting Money & Time On Marketing Strategies That Drive Clicks But No Leads
- Positive: Get The Perfect Wedding Gown For Your Big Day!
- Negative: Don’t Ruin Your Once In A Lifetime Wedding With A Not-So-Perfect Gown
See how you frame your message makes such a huge difference?
The feelings and emotions evoke are also different.
Positive framing evokes happiness and satisfaction while negative framing evokes unhappiness, dissatisfaction and even fear.
You can begin by testing the headline then moving on to sub-headlines and body copy. Or you can simply create 2 pages with one framed positively and the other framed negatively.
But I highly recommend that you test one element at a time so you can attribute the results to that single change.
You can always use writing tools like Grammarly and ProWritingAid or attend copywriting classes like Copywriting For Crafters or Write Copy That Compels And Sells. There are many online courses at CreativeLive and Udemy~
Is your statement specific? Is there any word that is unclear or vague?
In “Save Money, Time & Headaches With Marketing Strategies That Double Your ROI”, we state that our marketing agency can specifically double a company’s ROI.
However, we can be even more specific by simply adding “Victorian” in “Get The Perfect Victorian Wedding Gown For Your Big Day!”
Or you can also just add a number like in “Stop Wasting Money & Time On Marketing Strategies That Drive Thousand Clicks But Zero Leads”.
Visualizing Gain & Loss
This is the most crucial factor when framing your messages.
Ensure that your audience can visualize the gain or loss. Feel the benefits of using your products or services. Experience the pain of not using your products or services.
The key is to put yourself in your customer’s shoes. What benefit would help you greatly and make your life easier? What fear would you be most afraid of?
You can then make your statements more tangible. Tap into your five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing.
Also, make sure these outcomes or situations are plausible. That your audience is likely to face them.
For instance, “Don’t Ruin Your Once In A Lifetime Wedding With A Not-So-Perfect Gown” is actually hard to imagine because I can’t really feel the pain or fear.
Tapping into our senses, we can change this to…
- Don’t Regret Every Time You Look At Your Wedding Photo Because Of That Ugly Gown
- Don’t Regret Every Time You Look At Your Wedding Photo Because Of That Ugly Gown Which Emphasizes Your Figure Flaws
Short-Term vs Long-Term
When describing the benefit and pain, you will also need to think about whether this is felt immediately or something that is experienced much later.
So taking the example from above,
- Short-Term: Don’t Regret Every Time You Look At Your Wedding Photo Because Of That Ugly Gown
- Long-Term: Don’t Regret Showing Your Kids Your Wedding Photo & Get Ridiculed For That Ugly Gown
The first statement is instant. Where you would regret right after taking the wedding photo.
On the other hand, the second statement is delayed. Where you regret years after taking the wedding photo.
Again, this is something you can test. Or you can include both short-term and long-term impacts in a bullet list to make your copy stronger.
Now It’s Your Turn
So have you tried framing your copy positively and negatively? How were the results?
Leave a quick comment below and let’s see which framing works better across products, services and industries.