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How to Persuade, Charm and Convince: Marketing’s Rule of Three

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Three stick figures standing on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place blocksThe “Rule of Three” is a fun and easy-to-use “universal truth.” It can give your writing more impact, make your marketing more effective, and your advertising more persuasive. And for healthcare marketers and advertisers there’s a study out that validates the notion that three is the optimal number of claims in consumer messages.

We’re all aware—at least intuitively—of the power of three.

A string of three words, things or ideas pop up all the time in literature, expressions and storytelling:

  • Do it now.
  • Gold. Silver. Bronze.
  • I love you.
  • Manny, Moe and Jack [Pep Boys]
  • Snap, Crackle, Pop. [Rice Krispies]
  • Three Little Pigs.
  • Three strikes and you’re out.
  • Three’s company.


  • Built Ford Tough [Ford Trucks]
  • Competition. Bad for them. Great for you. [DHL]
  • Let’s Go Places. [Toyota]
  • Play. Laugh. Grow. [Fisher-Price]
  • The Few. The Proud. The Marines. [USMC]

And some hospital taglines:

What can you add to these three lists?In part, all of this, according to the infallible Wikipedia, “The Rule of Three is a writing principle that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things. The reader or audience is also more likely to consume information if it is written in groups of threes.”

Three Charms, but Four Alarms…

The insight here for marketing and advertising people who want an entryway to the consumer mind, it turns out that three—exactly three—is the optimal number of claims in persuasive settings. Kurt A. Carlson of Georgetown University Department of Marketing, and Suzanne B. Shu, UCLA Anderson School of Management provide an important and insightful study titled, When Three Charms But Four Alarms: Identifying the Optimal Number of Claims in Persuasion Settings.

The authors observe that “in settings where consumers know that the message source has a persuasion motive, the optimal number of positive claims is three. More claims are better until the fourth claim, at which time consumers’ persuasion knowledge causes them to see all the claims with skepticism.”

Producing the most positive impression of a product or service in marketing can effectively “use the ‘charm of three’ to minimize skepticism and maximize positive impressions.“

When selling consumer goods, marketers should list only three positive claims on packaging. Marketers also can create more effective messaging in distracting environments by listing more than three positive claims on channels such as billboards on the side of highways or signage in busy retail spaces.”

Three more resources to consider…For more even more professional awareness, consider these (not accidently) three additional articles:

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