Telling the Truth

The State of the Union, I, Tonya, and the Power of True Stories

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In the days following the 2018 State of the Union, many commentators noted the number of invited guests whose stories were shared during the speech. This tradition began in 1982, when Ronald Reagan invited everyday hero Lenny Skutnik to the annual speech and told his story. Since then, presidents from both parties have kept this tradition—inviting guests whose stories are inspiring, alarming and amazing.

This year was no different, including the stories of Cpl Matthew Bradford, the first blind double amputee to reenlist in the Marine Corps, 12 year-old Preston Sharp, who has organized the placement of 40,000 American flags and carnations on soldiers’ graves, and Ji Seong-ho, a North Korean Defector whose story brought tears to many eyes, whatever your opinion on the Administration’s foreign policy.

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Ji Seong-ho at the State of the Union Address

Why has this tradition developed? Why do some of the most powerful people in our country turn the attention back onto these invited guests? The answer is the power of the true story.

 

The Power of the True Story

True stories captivate audiences. They are instantly relatable, believable and trustworthy. We accept bizarre twists of fate in true stories we would never believe in fiction. We imagine ourselves in the situations, empathize with the subjects in the story, and the stories influence us.

 

“I, Tonya,” Awards Season, and the True Story

Every awards season, films based on true stories dominate. Audiences love to glimpse the story behind the story, to understand better the humanity at the heart of the news story. We praise and award actors who transform themselves to mimic real people, from Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman to Charlize Theron as Eileen Wuornos to this year’s I, Tonya, starring Margot Robbie and Allison Janney, both of whom have been showered with award nominations for their roles as Tonya Harding and her mother. Screenwriter Steven Rogers promises audiences “it is a really funny story, and it is a really tragic story, and it is a really crazy story. And it’s a true story, depending on whose point of view you believe.”

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The real Tonya Harding, and Margot Robbie who plays her,
at the LA Premiere of “I, Tonya.”

Telling True Brand Stories

Brands also use true stories every day to persuade audiences—from incorporating customer testimonials onto their website, to featuring employees and their families in broadcast campaigns. Telling the true stories of a brand brings instant credibility to its claims and stays in audiences’ minds long after they’ve forgotten other ads.

One memorable campaign for TRAFFIK was for Anthem’s CareMore brand, featuring the true story of a double amputee. We partnered with this brave individual to tell the story of the way CareMore had improved their life, and the resonance of their unique, true story drove significant audience engagement. TRAFFIK’s President & CEO Anthony Trimino remembers the success of this campaign: “When brands stand back and allow genuine stories to take center stage, they enable truth and sincerity to stir the mind, body and soul like no witty copy or well-timed punchline could ever hope to achieve.”

Learn more about TRAFFIK’s partnership with Anthem & CareMore.