There are many points of confusion about anthropology. From believing that all anthropologists are like Indian Jones to thinking we deal with the dinosaurs, major misconceptions abound. One is the confusion between the focus on the individual vs. the group, or more bluntly, the confusion between psychology and anthropology.

Interestingly, this is not just a point of confusion for the general public but even one within the anthropology community. Maybe unconsciously, but you will hear anthropologists talk about needs and motivations instead of concepts like meaning and context. Now I am not suggesting psychological needs and motivations are not real and important. Still, sometimes it seems we fall into the trap of framing our own language in psychology, a dominant narrative in our culture.

For anthropologists who have observed this or feel they may even be guilty of this reframing, I would encourage everyone to read Rita Denny and Patti Sunderland‘s chapter, Psychology Vs. Anthropology: Where Is Culture In Marketplace Ethnography? from Timothy Malefyt and Brian Moeran‘s 2003 book Advertising Cultures.

Inspired by their article, this blog seeks to clarify some confusion.

Psychological Framing

Psychological framing is an approach that focuses on the individual’s internal experience. It seeks to understand how people think and feel and how those thoughts and feelings influence their behavior. In advertising and marketing, psychological framing creates messages that appeal to people’s emotions, desires, and needs. For example, an ad for a luxury car might emphasize how owning the car will make the buyer feel powerful and successful.

Psychological framing is often used to create a sense of urgency, such as in limited-time offers or countdown clocks. It’s also used to create a sense of exclusivity by marketing products as “limited edition” or “members only.” By understanding their audience’s psychological needs and desires, advertisers and marketers can create messaging that resonates with them and motivates them to take action.

Anthropological Framing

In contrast, anthropological framing involves understanding the cultural context in which individuals exist and how it influences their behaviors and attitudes. Rather than focusing on individual needs and desires, anthropological framing examines the broader social, economic, and political factors that shape how people interact with products and brands.

Anthropological framing is used in advertising and marketing to understand a specific group of people’s cultural values, beliefs, and practices. By analyzing the cultural context of a target audience, companies can develop marketing campaigns that resonate with their values and create a sense of cultural relevance.

For example, when Proctor & Gamble launched its “Thank You, Mom” campaign during the 2012 Olympics, they used anthropological framing to understand the role of mothers in different cultures. By recognizing the cultural significance of the mother figure, P&G was able to create a campaign that resonated with audiences around the world.

Key Differences between Psychological and Anthropological Framing

The key difference between psychological and anthropological framing is their focus. Psychological framing is focused on understanding the individual’s internal experience, while anthropological framing is focused on the external cultural context. The goal of psychological framing is to understand and fulfill individual needs, while the goal of anthropological framing is to understand and align with cultural values.

Psychological framing is often used to promote short-term sales, while anthropological framing creates a long-term relationship between the consumer and the brand.

The Importance of Combining Psychological and Anthropological Framing

While psychological and anthropological framing differs in their focus, both are essential in creating effective marketing strategies. By combining the two approaches, companies can gain a more comprehensive understanding of consumer behavior.

For example, Apple has successfully combined psychological and anthropological framing in its marketing strategy. Apple uses psychological framing to appeal to individual needs for innovation and self-expression and anthropological framing to create a sense of cultural relevance and connection to its users.

Examples of Framing Styles in Advertising

Examples of psychological framing in advertising:

  • A toothpaste ad that emphasizes the importance of having a bright, white smile to boost an individual’s confidence.
  • A car commercial that highlights the feeling of personal freedom and independence that comes with owning a particular car brand.
  • A beauty product ad that plays on an individual’s desire to be seen as attractive to others.

Examples of anthropological framing in advertising:

  • A beer commercial that showcases people enjoying the product at a backyard barbecue or other social event, emphasizing the cultural values of socializing and camaraderie.
  • A perfume ad that emphasizes the product’s connection to a particular cultural or historical narrative, such as a romantic story or famous landmark.
  • A holiday ad that highlights the cultural traditions associated with a particular holiday, such as gift-giving or spending time with family.


Combining psychological and anthropological framing can provide a more comprehensive understanding of consumer behavior and create more effective marketing strategies. By understanding both the individual’s internal experience and the external cultural context, companies can create campaigns that resonate with consumers and build lasting relationships. But understanding the difference between the two is critical to using both effectively. 


Sunderland, P. L. (2003). Psychology vs. Anthropology: Where is Culture in Marketplace Ethnography? In R. M. Denny (Ed.), Advertising Cultures. essay, Routledge.