Copywriting What makes a good punch line

How to recognize frames

Most people believe that a good punch line is about humorous entertainment. In fact, the joke is often just a vehicle for subverting people's mental immune systems and making it easier to get a targeted message across. Humor overrides the mental immune system through strong emotions that provoke laughter. In the end, every good punch line gives us a new meaning and a new perspective on the familiar.

Example: Two children are arguing. One says: “You have been adopted!” The other answers: “So what? At least they wanted me. ”This punch line from the German comedian Markus Krebs illustrates how the concept of framing works. The first sentence evokes a cliché in us, a learned frame. Because everything we know about the world was stored in such small information units in the brain.

The frame “adopted”, for example, is likely to be saved as a problematic topic for most of us. This statement therefore gives a direction, evokes a certain expectation from the listener. The second sentence includes a reinterpretation of this expectation - professional comedians refer to this as a punchline. The difficult topic is viewed from a new and, in the present case, even positive perspective.

It should be noted, however, that not every framing is automatically successful: the further the punch line - the new frame - is away from the previous expectations, the stronger the emotional reaction. And that's exactly what a good punchline and framing are all about. Humor is a wonderful way to be creative, and framing the silver bullet there.

Is it all just manipulation?

The framing effect has the potential to give familiar things a new meaning. This can affect our subjective reality in amazing ways. In areas such as psychology, advertising or public relations, framing has been used more or less consciously for decades to open up new perspectives to people. There is repeated criticism that brings the concept of framing into the vicinity of manipulative techniques. So also in politics and the media.

The framing effect is like a knife: it can be used to do good or to cause serious injury. In the areas of media and politics in particular, a wild battle has broken out over the sovereignty of interpretation through framing. Political actors quickly turn legitimate criticism into a “dirt bucket campaign” or asylum seekers into a “refugee wave”. And the media quickly transform climate change into a “climate crisis”, a “climate lie” or a “climate emergency”.

With each of these terms, our perspective changes in a subtle way and, as a result, our attitude towards these issues. And the more people learn about framing, the more often the suspicion of targeted manipulation emerges. The controversy surrounding the so-called framing manual of the ARD is an example of this. This should give employees of the broadcaster a moral argumentation aid on how public service broadcasting can be presented more positively.

Communication is never innocent. Anyone who understands how framing works can secure the authority to interpret reality and thus hold one of the most effective communication tools of our time in their hands.

Framing as an innovative tool

Without the ability to reinterpret things, i.e. to frame them, there will be no innovations and no visions of the future.

Let's make it specific: The construction of the Eurotunnel under the English Channel devoured around six billion pounds. The result: The travel time from London to Paris has been shortened by a meager 40 minutes for this gigantic sum. Perhaps the wrong question was asked at the beginning of the project. Because instead of asking how 40 minutes of travel time can be saved, one should have thought about how these 40 minutes could become the most valuable time of the day for passengers.

Ideas for this include: living room atmosphere, entertainment center, free massage, meeting compartments, personal service for every passenger or free food. The expenditure for all these measures would only represent a tiny fraction of the actual construction costs.

As with a good punchline, in this case, too, successful framing is one of the decisive mental tools in order to be able to view a situation from a new perspective. Because only if one succeeds in changing one's point of view does the perspective on a thing change, and with it the meaning.

You can also develop innovations through framing by consciously designing well-learned frames to be “open to meaning”. For example, almost everyone has an idea of ​​what a glass Coca-Cola bottle is. As soon as you read this, the corresponding frame has already been activated in the performance. Now one could consciously go to the "destruction" of this frame and ask what else the bottle could be. If you put a flower in the opening, it becomes a vase, if you fill it with sand from the beach, it becomes a holiday memory, if you get into a street fight with it, it eventually becomes a weapon.

"Cracking" established frames is a conscious process and doesn't just happen in our head. If you play with frames in this way, you will find new business areas, new applications, new product categories or maybe even new ways to win customers.

The entrepreneur Elon Musk gave the old idea of ​​the pneumatic tube a new frame with the innovation "Hyperloop" he presented in 2013. He transferred it from the "In-House Mail" area to the "Mobility" area. Reframing an old idea to develop a breakthrough innovation. What is it about? Humans are accelerated in capsules in a pipe system by negative pressure to over 800 kilometers per hour in order to transport them from A to B.

The entire area of ​​innovation is based on the ability to reinterpret well-known things and to use them in a new context - i.e. to switch from one frame to another. Framing is proving to be a key skill in our thinking that is still underutilized.