A great comedy writer once told me about the “Rule of Three”.
It’s the third thing that makes everything else funny. Or interesting. Or engaging.
I was reminded of it a few times this week while watching the 40th Anniversary of Saturday Night Live.
Remember the classic Chris Farley sketch as Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker? The Rule of Three is in play as Farley introduces himself to kids Stacey and Brian and says “First, let me tell you a few things about myself…
I’m thirty-five years old.
I am divorced.
And I live in a van down by the river!”
The famous “cowbell” sketch contains the Rule of Three, as Christopher Walken, playing record producer Bruce Dickenson, turns to the band and says “Guess what…
I got a fever.
And the only prescription
is more cowbell!”
The trick to the Rule of Three is the third item.
It has to surprise. It must delight. It needs to stand out.
The first two things represent duality. Human beings live in a world of duality. We expect duality.
Left and right. North and south. Man and woman.
The first two things in the rule of three make sense. The third one needs to deviate.
One of the musical guests on the 40th anniversary of SNL also used the Rule of Three to create a hit song called “FourFive Seconds”. It is a trio featuring Kanye West, Rihanna… and Paul McCartney.
The first two things are the expected duality. Kanye West teaming with Rihanna makes sense. We expect it.
Paul McCartney? That’s unexpected. That’s unusual.
When the mind encounters the third “gravitating body” – that unexpected twist – it cannot help but engage.
It is the Rule of Three that make this song (and this combination of artists) really, really compelling.
Brian Clark at Copyblogger wrote a great piece about using the Rule of Three. You can read it here.
Can you use the Rule of Three in business?
You can use it in your radio ads.
You can use it to write more effective web copy.
You can use it to inspire people to open their wallets at your business, because you’ve secretly used it to open their minds.
Order the marketing book Brand Like a Rock Star and learn the core strategies that propelled the biggest names in rock to the top of the charts, and how you can use those strategies in your business. You can order it with one click here.
“Steve Jones knows a thing or two. Listen and take notes” – Gene Simmons