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Persuasive copy: the power of three

By January 23, 2015March 18th, 2015No Comments

I wonder if you caught an entertaining piece in the press about the ‘power of three’? It is well worth some thought if you need to write persuasive copy for your business or if you’re doing some public speaking.

Writers have long deployed ‘threes’ to build up an argument: think about how the three adjectives ‘tall, dark and handsome’ work much better than ‘tall and handsome.’

Likewise, ‘vini vidi vici’ (I came, I saw, I conquered and about as much Latin as many of us have ever conquered) rolls off the tongue.

How to sell Rice Krispies

In fact research from UCLA, California, suggests that to get what we want, we naturally write/speak in threes. Kellogg’s copywriters twigged this generations ago when they came up with ‘Snap, Crackle and Pop’ to sell Rice Krispies.

Copywriting secret: the power of three

Or what about the legendary Mars Bar slogan: ‘Work, Rest and Play’? Note how ‘Vorsprung Durch Technik’ is three words, suitably mysterious and clever sounding, with that hint of futurist technological promise.

I bet you can easily think of more examples. Take the Olympic motto, ‘faster, higher, stronger.’

As we’ve seen in the examples above, the magic trio idea works for adjectives (the Olympics), nouns (Rice Krispies) and verbs (Mars.)

The best things in life are three

As a piece in the London daily Metro notes, the best things in life are three and we have grown up with the idea: The Three Blind Mice. The Three Little Pigs. Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The Three Musketeers. The Bee Gees (though I might take issue with that last one.)

I’ve heard comedian and consummate wordsmith Stephen Fry talk about how threes have long been used as a powerful rhetorical device in politics too. Speechwriters are akin to conjurors in this.

Learning from Sherlock

Think of it like a trick, unfurled in three stages:

• the set-up
• the follow-through
• the prestige = the moment of revelation

Derren Brown, the movie Now You See Me and indeed the latest series of Sherlock (I can’t wait to find out how Moriarty did it) can give us some masterclasses here.

Copywriting secret: the power of three

Copywriters’ tip: less is more

What is fascinating about the UCLA research is that in underlines a principle that I always tell my clients: less is more. It is tempting when writing about your business to include everything and the kitchen sink (I’m using a cliché here for effect). You want to make sure your clients have absolutely every possible reason to hire you or buy from you, but you may instead end up boring or confusing them, losing your key message in a welter of blether.

The UCLA team found that too many ‘persuaders’ are actually off-putting. So a dating ad claiming to be ‘kind, cute and funny’ was more appealing that one claiming to be ‘kind, cute, funny and intelligent.’ The second version just went one adjective too far.

Building your argument

This is a great lesson when you are writing copy for your website, brochure or proposals. I’ve used it in the words on the Home Page slider for my client Phoenix Timber Buildings:

• Any shape, any size, any style

• Your dream, our project, your budget

Though I did let myself slip in a ‘result’ in the phrase, ‘Work, peace, relax … smile.’ Smile is the result, however you use your timber building.

As you can see, the wording on the slider is also a combination of features and benefits, but that’s a discussion for another blog!

Get your message across


I hope my thoughts on threes will be a help next time you have to get your message across on paper or online. I hope they will reduce your ‘blood, sweat and tears.’

And if you would like a professional hand with copywriting, do give me a call. Make it today!

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I’m Lesley Hussell and my job is to bring some copywriting magic to your business, so you sell more, inspire your staff or spread your message far and wide. You’ll want to know how I measure up against other copywriters you’re considering, and whether I’m good enough to be trusted with your brand. If you’re looking for quick wit, creative thinking and a flair for compelling content writing.