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The power of the Rule of Three

In times of uncertainty we find ourselves considering why we do what we do, as we need extra motivation and focus to keep us going. Agendas are shifted and priorities change. Most of all, we look for clarity.

During this pandemic each country has created its own way of sending a clear message to the population. If during the Second War World the British made popular:

Zip it! Careless talk costs lives


Keep calm and carry on,

these days we’ve been hearing

Stay home, protect the NHS, save lives


Catch it, bin it, kill it.

These messages are clear and have been crafted to ask people to do something very specific that can have a major impact in exceptional times.

These urgent messages that are designed to catch our attention and indicate clearly what we should do follow a formula:

– Step 1: Tell us what we need to do

– Step 2: Tell us why it matters

– Step 3: Tell us what this will achieve.

During even more exceptional times, such as in times of war, the message can be even shorter and more direct: “Do this and beat the enemy.”

During the Covid-19 pandemic businesses are using the same formula to convey a sense of clarity, attracting attention with urgency and tension and telling a story about their business purpose. 

Ford created a new campaign right at the beginning of the pandemic based on the rule of three: 

– For over a hundred years Ford has been building for this country. We built tanks and planes during the war.

– Last year following the hurricane and the fires we offered payment relief to over 150,000 customers.

– Now we are here to give a hand again with Ford credit support.

There is a reason for this: people remember things easily in a form and cadence of three. This is the smallest number required to make a pattern, and it has musical and mathematical connotations.

The rule of three has been used by many different brands in slogans such as “Just do it” and “Every little helps”, and more recently in Italy to bring hope during the pandemic, “Andrà tutto bene,” which translates as “Everything will be fine.”

If you’re struggling to tell the story of the change you’re creating right now, can you find the three basic elements of your narrative and create a short message? How does your story look when you use the rule of three to get the message across?



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