Advertising Guide: How to use Reframing to improve communications

Advertising Guide: How to use Reframing to improve communications

This guide is designed to give you the tools you need to improve your messaging on everything climate-related.

After reading this guide you should have a good idea about what frames are, how bad actors use them, and how to fight back by crafting your own powerful climate communications.

Included in this guide:

What are narratives and frames? And how do bad actors utilise them to create powerful climate misinformation?

Constructing frames. Everything you need to make your own convincing climate narratives

Framing for brands and organisations. Three actionable ways to get ahead.

What are narratives and frames?

And how do bad actors utilise them to create powerful climate misinformation?

What are narratives & frames?

Narratives and frames have different uses. Frames are broad and set the tone for how a story is told. They encourage us to come to particular judgements and conclusions. Narratives are stories applied by people to these frames in support of an objective.


The way a story, issue or argument is presented. It helps us interpret what we see and form our own narratives. A frame affects whether we think an issue is important, whether we think of it as a personal problem or a shared social concern, and the solutions we support.

How are they used?

To make aspects of what we’re saying more clear and important. To promote a particular definition of a problem, or moral evaluation.

Why does it work?

It brings far away concepts into a person’s personal world. Reframing an issue means creating widespread change in the way people think and talk about it.


What is it?

A course of action with a beginning, a middle and an end, used by all of us to make sense of experiences.

How is it used

Narratives are interpreted and given meaning via the frames which exist in that person’s mind.

Why does it work?

They create a strong association and meaning for the individual.

Example We can all fight climate change if we do our bit. The best thing you can do is to give up f lying, but you can also cut down on your meat consumption, it’s hard, but I find it rewarding. Here are some tips.


Reframing in action

Climate change. Much, much better than global warming.

‘Global warming’ has been reframed as ‘climate change’, all thanks to political communications consultant Frank Luntz. In 2003, he advised the Bush administration: “It’s time for us to start talking about “climate change” instead of global warming ...  “Climate change” is less frightening than “global warming.”

More recently, Extinction Rebellion has had their own go at reframing the issue. It recently spearheaded a drive to reframe climate change as a ‘climate emergency’.

Reframing climate change as a climate emergency seeks to drive home the urgency of the crisis 

Before lockdown: ‘low skilled labour’. In lockdown: ‘clap for key workers’

Key workers are people whose jobs are vital to public health and safety during the coronavirus lockdown. This framing was created by the UK government to show the importance of front line staff, and ensure they could keep essential services running throughout lockdown. Campaigners were quick to point out that previously, many of these people had been seen as ‘low skilled’ and are often underpaid.

It wasn't long until the internet clocked on to the performative nature of clap for key workers

Constructing frames

Everything you need to make your own convincing climate narratives 

How to construct a frame

Each of these approaches contains four ingredients at different levels.

Framing for brands and organisations

Three actionable ways to get ahead 

Summary: Three ways brands and organisations can use framing

Setting the record straight

These kind of campaigns are a response to adversity. They’re a way of responding to criticism or attacks. It’s about debunking disinformation, on your own terms.

Key elements are:

Reframing the issue: changing the conversation, often to re-butt, or offer solidarity to an affected group.

Explaining why the other frame is wrong: using empathy, or pointing out where division is being created.

Showing solidarity: either through an action that can be completed, or showing just how many stand in solidarity with the affected group. Be strong, be unapologetic, be positive.

"If you don't like the topic, change the conversation" -Don Draper

Setting the record straight in action: ITV

What happened?

A dance by Diversity, on the theme of Black Lives Matter received over 24,000 complaints to Ofcom, with people complaining of ‘reverse racism’. Crucially, only 7% were received after the programme aired, and the rest after news stories, including 20 articles from the MailOnline.

How did the brand respond?

ITV stood by Diversity. They reframed the issue through inclusivity, using the ad on the right. Ofcom concluded that “freedom of expression is particularly important in the context of artistic works”.

What can we learn?

Rather than arguing with the complaints, or justifying their actions, ITV changed the frame and doubled down to make their point.

Another example on a smaller scale, from Yorkshire tea community managers

Setting the record straight in action: Campaigning 'Truth'

What happened?

In the mid 1990s, more than 40 states in the United States commenced litigation against the tobacco industry. When the state of Florida reached a $11.3 billion settlement with a group of tobacco companies, it decided to fund an initiative and creative campaign to encourage teens to reject tobacco and to unite against the tobacco industry.

How did the brand respond?

In 1998, the teen smoking rate was 23%. To decrease this, the government launched ‘truth’, a national campaign aimed at eliminating teen smoking in the United States. With an integrated campaign across owned, earned and paid, the initiative created a movement against tobacco companies promoted through grassroots advocacy.

What can we learn?

With a powerful creative campaign, the ads re-framed tobacco as an addictive drug promoted by the adult-establishment, and tobacco control as a hip, rebellious, youth-led movement. It moved away from the heavy “life or death” tone adopted by many anti-tobacco campaigns and adopted a tone that never talked down to its target audience.  The smoking rate is down to 8%.

Growing brands

To grow a brand you have to define what it stands for – and let people know about it. When doing this, messaging will be mostly positive. But this doesn’t mean you can’t take on the myths and fight falsities.

Key elements of growing brands are:

Clarity on the  brand’s proposition, what value it brings to people, and how it differs from competitors.  

Consistency on visual identity to create distinctive brand assets.

Using paid media to raise awareness of the brand, as well as test and learn about what works, and who you’re talking to.

Growing brands in action: Make My Money Matter

Make My Money Matter is a brand that always communicates their mission very clearly: “We are a people-powered campaign fighting for a world where the public have the knowledge and power to align their pensions, savings and investments with their values”.  

A clear message and visual identity

Every campaign looks to support one message: “Making your pension green is the most powerful thing you can do to protect the planet”. They have also created several brand campaigns, for example, the 21x challenge: “Making your pension green is 21x more powerful than giving up f lying, going veggie and switching energy provider.” This bring their mission to life and encourages the public to take action. They are consistent with their visual identity across mass media as well as digital to build brand recognition.

What can we learn?

Using paid media allows them to reach more people outside the echo chamber. Creativity allows them to engage people who otherwise wouldn’t pay attention to issues around their pension. Their message is consistent and simple.

Make Your Money Matter amplified a compelling fact and offered a simple action towards more sustainable living

Climate reframes to think about

If we allow others to set the frames, we end up in a cycle of rebuttal. We end up speaking in our opposition’s frame, reinforcing their argument. Instead, reframing the issue and sticking to those frames creates a new appreciation of the topic. For more tips on how to use frames, visit The Frameworks Institute.

Watch outs


Our research shows clear confusion over the way we talk. Words and terms like sustainability, Net Zero, just transition and carbon neutral just aren't understood by most people. They make us sound like we’re trying to be clever. The average reading age in the UK is between 9-11 years old, so use short, snappy, emotive words and analogies to get your point across. Use familiar words, and break down the issue of climate change into local or tangible issues, benefits and results e.g. jobs, energy prices, clean air.

Crisis fatigue

Although terms such as ‘climate emergency’ have done a good job in elevating climate change up the agenda, it also risks creating fatigue and disillusionment. Strong feedback loops, calls to action and and talk of positive progress being made are necessary to keep people engaged.

The far right & climate denial.

Climate denial is a key pillar of the Far Right in Europe and America. DeSmog’s excellent reporting on both political parties’ positions is essential reading for those seeking to understand these links further.

We hope you feel more confident constructing frames after this guide. Please get in touch with any frames you currently use!
Further Reading
Advertising guide: What is Climate Misinformation? Everything you need to know about how misinformation effects organisations, brands and audiences.
Misinformation alert: Cost of Net Zer0. For more background on the powerful "cost of climate action" frame.
Advertising Guide on Paid Media. How paid media can help you achieve your aims during this time.