Sunday, September 03, 2006

Step One: Get the Name Right

Names are powerful. Names help us recognize and keep order in our world. They are a major part of how we communicate. Millions are spent every year so we will buy our cars and deodorants by name. This is a key idea from primitive sympathetic magic: If you know the true name of something you can control it. In advertising and politics that old magic still works.

There is a lot of activity on political strategy sites right now on a concept called framing. Simplified, a frame is a name with built in boundaries and a subconscious, emotional payload. We use the term “frame” as in “frame the debate” without thinking much about what that means. Will taxes or revenue streams draw more attention in a debate? If you get to frame the debate, give it a name, you have a significant edge. Take a look at Blaines Picnic, for example. It started out framed as “ensuring family friendly picnics.” It ended being reframed as “preventing under age drinking and drunk driving.” This happens in most issues. Look at water rates, the prison project, pay raises, or any national issue for more examples.

Next time you think about an issue, take a close look at the name. How does that name frame the issue? What is the emotional content of the name? What subconscious response does it evoke? Is the name that it has truly the right name? You don't really understand an issue until you know its right name.

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