The Three Stooges.

Snap, Crackle, and Pop.

Red, yellow, and blue.

For years, we – as marketers, advertisers, designers, and communicators – have almost blindly followed the rule of three … in visuals, in messages, in benefits, and more.  It’s been one of the unproven facts that informs our universe; somehow, three and no more seemed to cement our case.

Now, more than gut says we’re right:  Two UCLA behavioral science/marketing professors investigated a handful of scenarios with hundreds of undergrads, testing recall and reactions to anywhere from one to six reasons for each.  They deliberately explored the theory known as “set size effect,” or, in other words, the more descriptors, the better.  [Guess the “set size” creator never met Mies van der Rohe.]  The results were to be expected:  Students embraced the list of three, with four or more receiving a raised eyebrow or words of disdain.

Don’t stop there, though:  Three means more than a simple count.  It points to one of the issues we face now:  Way too many choices and way too little time to make effective decisions.  Though every day we face that challenge (especially in grocery stores), it’s just recently, when shopping for healthcare insurance, that we wished for an easier process.  We not only had to review the in- and out-of-network providers, but also go through, grid by grid by grid, comparisons of benefits, making sure we were matching apples to apples.   Multiply that by five providers.  And hear our frustration.

So “three” is now our golden rule. 

For us, that involves skirting aisles with too many similar products (how many different kinds of oatmeal do we need?), glossing over ads with more than three descriptors, ignoring multi-multi-imaged signs.  It also includes our stricter adherence to tri-anything in our work. 

Like our headline.