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Democrats finally get a framing win with ‘Vouchercare’

David Aaker, professor emeritus of marketing and public policy | September 24, 2012

Democrats always seem to lose the all-important discussion framing battle. But with “vouchercare,” they’ve finally won one.

“Vouchercare” describes the republican approach to the reform of Medicare. It frames the discussion around the concept that a fixed price voucher will be given to retired people who must then accept the risk that the insurance industry might price coverage higher than the voucher or, worse, will not insure them at all. It frames the discussion making “vouchers” front and center. Republicans must defend the vouchers instead of discussing the limitations that their approach is intended to address.

The label “vouchercare” has (ironically) been defined by republicans, which makes their effort to reframe harder. The concept “care” as in “Obamacare” implies the essence of a medical insurance program. And “vouchers” are defined by the long-term republican position on education reform. The basic idea is that if parents are given vouchers and allowed to choose schools, then the resulting competition between schools will result in the improvement in education. It is based on the logic of a free market, a logic that may not be as palatable in the medical arena even for those that accept it in the education context.

We will see if the democrats can show the same discipline that republicans have exhibited to leverage their early framing win with “vouchercare.” It requires a willingness and ability to be relentless in keeping the “vouchercare” label as the only descriptor of the programs being discussed.

Framing is crucial, and marketers can learn from the political parties, particularly the republicans with their “death taxes,” “pro-abortion,” “mandates,” etc. Framing with respect to a brand, object or issue will dictate perceptions, attitudes and behavior no matter what the logic and evidence say. Strong frames or perspectives smother and distort rational information processing.

Colgate has another huge toothpaste winner in Colgate Optic White, in part because it framed the discussion around having the same whitening ingredient as strips. In doing so, Colgate not only communicated the power of the toothpaste but also made the new product relevant to the whitening category in which Crest 3D White Whitestrips have excelled. It made attacks on the new brand especially awkward for Crest.

Marketers are used to think about positioning, but framing can be a more important force in the marketplace. It not only talks about how a brand is perceived but also about how the brand preference discussion will proceed.

Cross-posted from the blog Aaker on Brands.