Persuade with Story or Facts?

Persuade with Story or Facts?

Heading into World War I, the US government had a problem. The American people were highly skeptical to get involved in “Europe’s War.” Something happening across the Atlantic hardly felt personal.

But then a German submarine torpedoed and sank the ocean liner Lusitania. The US government used the tragedy as a rallying cry to persuade Americans to enlist and fight.

But what’s interesting is how they did it.

They didn’t list facts and figures.

They told a story.

Below is an actual World War I recruitment poster. (It’s grainy, so the text is copied below)

One mother lost all her three young children, one six years, one aged four, and the third a babe in arms, six months old. She herself lives, and held up the three of them in the water, all the time shrieking for help. When rescued by a boat party the two eldest were dead. Their room was required on the boat, and the mother was brave enough to realize it.
“Give them to me, my bonnie wee things. I will bury them. They are mine to bury as they were mine to keep.”
With her hair streaming down her back and her form shaking with sorrow, she took hold of each little one from the rescuers and reverently placed it into the water again, and the people on the boat wept with her as she murmured a little sobbing prayer to the great God above.
But her cup of sorrow was not yet completed. For just as they were landing, her third and only child died in her arms.

Over 100 years later and the story is still impactful, especially if you’re a parent.

In just 169 words, you can feel the intense personal tragedy. You can imagine what it was like to be that mother.

After you read this article, you may forget specific details. But you’ll definitely remember the story.

But what if there was no story?

What if US government used some facts showing the scale of the tragedy?

If the ad looked like the one below, would we still write about it 100 years later?

So the next time you catch yourself trying to persuade your audience with facts alone, remember the Lusitania. Persuade with a story.


Image from Propaganda & Persuasion by Jowett, Garth S.; O’Donnell, Victoria J. (2014–03–04). (Kindle Location 4833). SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.

Thanks to Beulah Toth

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