The language used in health promotion warrants attention as it shapes how health promotion is understood, constraining or opening up possibilities for action. The 2016 Shanghai Declaration and the 1986 Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion call for comprehensive approaches which include policy and environmental changes. Yet many health promotion programmes in Australia continue to focus on informational and/or behavioural strategies, and there is a contemporary tendency for such programmes to be described as ‘sending messages’. This paper uses frame analysis to discuss the role of language, and specifically language that frames health promotion as sending messages, in contributing to and reinforcing the predominance of informational and/or behavioural strategies. It argues such ‘message’ language helps to set a pattern in which informational and/or behavioural strategies are assumed to be the primary goal and extent of health promotion; rather than one component of a comprehensive, multi-strategic approach. It discusses how frames can be ‘taken for granted’ and ways in which such frames can be challenged and broadened. It argues that the message frame and associated behavioural framings set narrow boundaries for health promotion, contributing to the continuation of health inequities. These frames can also displace the language of the Ottawa Charter, which has capacity to reframe health issues socio-ecologically and include collective strategies. The paper concludes that a first step (of the many needed) towards applying the Charter’s approach and multi-level, multi-strategic framework is to use the innovative vocabulary it offers. The words matter.