The Charm Of 3

The number 3 appears time and time again in all areas of life, especially in visual areas – architecture, photography and design. Things are just better in 3’s. Take The Three Musketeers, or the Three Wise Men and of course don’t forget The Godfather trilogy. Add one more to the mix and it can ruin everything. Please note Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull.

The brain finds things in threes naturally easy to grasp. Take the basic building blocks of visual communication – elements, colours and fonts. Take that to four elements and the eyes can become overwhelmed and start darting around like a frog watching a fly. In photography we are taught to use the rule of thirds to help the photo tell a story and compile a visually pleasing shot. The Bauhaus used the basics of 3 shapes and three colours in their teachings, square circle triangle, red yellow blue. Writers have long followed the rule that words and phrases that come in threes are more satisfying to the reader as they have a more poetic, rhythmic quality.

Back when the banks were starting to recover after the economic crash, the first three to announce they’d started to make a profit saw their stocks rise sharply. When a fourth made the announcement, the stocks plummeted.

Marketing departments at the University of California and Georgetown University carried out research into the effect of number of claims made by a brand. With so many brands fighting for survival, some think that pushing every positive claim about their product at a consumer will make it look more appealing, but this in fact has the opposite effect. The universities put forward the notion that someone listing three factors will persuade us of something, but that will be met with scepticism if they mention a fourth and the consumer would then disbelieve all claims. The rule was applied to messages put in front of us by advertisers and political speakers.

They tested the theory out on hundreds of people that were shown things like brands of shampoo and breakfast cereal and then asked for their reaction. Claims like ‘healthier, crunchier, organic, improved recipe’ made people question the claims, people felt the products were trying too hard to create a good impression, the sheer number of them made the product untrustworthy. The conclusion was that three claims are optimal.

In an environment where brands are constantly trying to shout over each other, it’s best to be clear and confident. Keep the messaging simple.

The charm of 3