Don’t Think of an Elephant!
George Lakoff

25 April 2019

Don’t Think of an Elephant by George Lakoff – to frame the debate and wield the power of words in your branding

Don’t Think of an Elephant! was published in 2004 as an unofficial manual for American progressives. In its aim of defeating the Republican Bush government in the elections that year, it failed. But, in changing the way people think about language in public discourse, it has been a huge success – its influence stretching far beyond politics…

Cognitive Linguist George Lakoff argues that above any policy – war, the economy, healthcare – it is moral values that people identify with and support. While progressives are terrible at articulating a clear moral vision, Republicans, alas, are pros – especially at framing the debate. One example Lakoff uses is the way Republicans discussed tax cuts strictly in terms of tax relief. The simple word relief automatically framed tax as something bad and relief from it as something good, and with this one phrase they set the terms of the debate, seized the high ground and pre-defined any opponents to this policy as fundamentally bad people.

It’s not just progressives that should learn from Republicans, but branding enthusiasts too. Extolling the superiority of your product (like policies) will only get you so far. Meanwhile, framing the debate savvily sets the terms on which your product is judged and permeates a moral vision throughout your brand that appeals to consumers on a deep and effective level.

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