FV-101 | Persuading to Investing into Sustainability

Prof. Dr. Miguel Brendl, Prof. Dr. Beat Hintermann, Clara Cutello

Marketing and Public Economics

Research Topic
Common wisdom has it that optimists see the glass as half full, whereas pessimists see it as halfempty. 
Now consider that companies or politicians could describe either version of the glass, and
maybe turn their audience into optimists or pessimists. We can generalize from this metaphor
to message framing, a technique invented by Nobel-prize winner Daniel Kahneman and the late
Amos Tversky, where a message describes the identical event either in reference to losses or in
reference to gains. As much prior research we asked how effective a message would be at changing
a person’s attitude toward an issue when framed either in gain terms or in loss terms. We studied
attitudes toward policies that force companies to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Principally
four types of message frames exist, such as, removing CO2 from the atmosphere reduces risks to
the environment (non-loss frame), not removing CO2 increases risks (loss frame), regaining CO2 is
an opportunity for the environment (gain frame), not regaining CO2 misses out on an opportunity
(non-gain frame). Note that any persuasive message of the type “doing X will result in Y” has to use
one of the four types of frames, or a mix of them.

Description of the Problem
We address two problems. First, in practice it is often unclear whether a complex persuasive message
expresses a gain, non-gain, loss, or non-loss, impeding choice of the most persuasive frame. We
have developed a measure that allows such classifications. Second, which frame is most persuasive
depends on the situation. However, for some situations two existing theories, one of them by us,
make contradictory predictions

We have conducted one successful experiment as part of a master’s thesis2. We seek to conduct
a second experiment that would address a weakness of the first one and test if the first one is
replicable. We need to succeed with both to be able to publish the research in a competitive
academic journal. Based on the evidence gathered in the proposed project we would be in a strong
position to apply for public funding to further investigate this important issue.

Importance, Usefulness and Novelty of the Project
Practitioners who propose a policy or solution may want to choose the most persuasive frame for
their message. To do this, they would need to know whether their audience thinks of the solution
as gain or non-loss. Our new measure promises to solve this problem. Giving practitioners advice as
to which frame to choose requires choosing one theory. We show that both competing theories are
valid, but hold under different circumstances. This is also of interest to academics.