Duck, Duck, Goose: Harnessing the Power of “Three” in Marketing


“The brain finds it relatively easy to grasp threes — elements, colours and fonts.” Add another and we become overstimulated by the abundance of choice alternatives and loose focus. Don’t believe me? The proof is in the puddin’.

As a child, we were typically conditioned to group things in three: A,B,C; 1,2,3; The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Three blind mice, Three musketeers, Trinity, Three Stooges, and Duck, duck, goose–just to name a few. “Then again, maybe these writers, animators and wise men understood the ease with which we understand ‘threes’ and reconstructed their work to fit this paradigm.”

Continuing with this idea, psychological studies reinforce the conceptual interpretations of  elements, fonts, and colors as the building blocks of visual communication. It is unwise to use more than 3 fonts in any sort of communication (i.e. brochures, websites, power-points, etc). It is also recommended to use no more than three distinct colors in your advertising campaign. It not only creates a unified look, but it centralizes the attention of your consumer.

Prove it, you say? My pleasure. Let’s look at some of the most iconic brands of America to date:

McDonald’s: The McLogo consists of two elements-The name McDonald’s and the Big Golden Arches. They use just one font, and just two colours — yellow and white (or black)

Coke: The Coca-Cola button that you see in most advertising, consists of three elements: the button itself, the bottle on the button and the Coke Logo. Even though it is a full colour image, the colours are minimal and there are just one or two fonts used.

I know what you are going to say, there are exceptions, and yes, Sherlock, there certainly are. Although my point is that traditionally the rule of three aligns with our psyche. Whether we were trained to respond to the three count by the examples given above or whether we inherently respond to the trifecta is a separate question, but one I would love for you to comment on. 😉

For now, I will leave you with this:

1. URBAN DICTIONARY: Power of Three
The combined powers of three entities, upon such combination not only increase their power by three, but much greater.



Optimism is a Brain Defect

I repeat. Optimism is a brain defect.

I think it’s fitting to start out this post by talking about something I hate. I hate when I am having a really horrible day and I sit down next to someone who is having the BEST. DAY. EVER. I don’t care about the flowers your boyfriend bought you, carnations are filler flowers anyway. I know, I’m a terrible person.

On a normal day, however, I tend to be optimistic about most things. According to a recent study, this means I have a brain defect. Well that’s hopeful. I’ll explain:

Researchers at Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at the University College London studied nineteen volunteers who were presented with a eighty situational/negative life events (i.e. car jacking, infidelity, being fired, and Alzheimer disease). During this time, researchers measured their activity in the brain while they were hooked up to a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner. Participants were asked to estimate the probability that these negative events would happen to them sometime in their life. A few minutes later, the volunteers were told the average probability of these events actually occurring to them. 

The researchers found that people did, in fact, update their estimates based on the information given, but only if the information was better than expected. For example if individuals estimated a 40 percent chance of getting cancer in their lifetime and then later were told they actually only had a 30 percent chance, then the second time they were polled they would alter their probability to 32 percent. However, if they underestimated their probability of a negative event, they would not increase their likelihood.

Why? Well the brain scans suggest that “all participants showed increased activity in the frontal lobes of the brain when the information given was better than expected, this activity actively processed the information to recalculate an estimate. However, when the information was worse than estimated, the more optimistic a participant there was less efficiently activity in these frontal regions coded for it, suggesting they were disregarding the evidence presented to them.” In essence, when outcomes were better than anticipated, activity in the frontal cortices spiked, monitoring estimation errors. However, when things were worse than expected, brain activity was much weaker. Psychologically, this gives way to the confirmation bias, the tendency for individuals to favor information that confirms their preconception and disregard information that does not support their previously held beliefs. When factual information given by researchers to participants did not match up with their predictions, the subjects essentially plugged their ears and hummed a tune.

Perhaps this is the reason that unplanned pregnancies occur or DUIs are so prevalent. The “it won’t happen to me” mentality can be quite harmful. On the other hand, being positive isn’t negative. There are a million reasons why we may condition ourselves in this manner. Seeing the glass half full or making lemonade out of lemons undoubtedly lowers stress, makes us more ambitious, and contributes to our overall happiness. It’s the one brain defect I am proud to possess.   How can we as students of psychology, marketing, public relations, and human resources find a silver-lining applicable to our fields and more importantly, our lives?