The Greatest Marketer

I know, I know, I’m late to the party. My household only got The Greatest Showman for Christmas. But we’ve certainly made up for lost time: I think I must’ve watched it 23 times already. 24, probably, by the time you read this. Damn, those songs are catchy!

Now, before the historians among you get all aflutter, I know that the film is an adaptation of the life of Phineas Taylor (P.T.) Barnum. And that some parts (like Zac Efron’s character) are added purely for storytelling purposes. But hey, I work in marketing, so I like a bit of storytelling…

In fact, while watching the film, I couldn’t help but notice the marketing theme running throughout. What a marketer P.T. Barnum was! He knew that to really engage your audience, you must have an intimate understanding of their needs, wants, and desires. Classic audience profiling.

According to his autobiography, Barnum knew that if it were to be a success, his show would have to:

“Excite the interest or awaken the curiosity of the public”

He also knew the power of print media. He knew that, at that time, high society hung on every word that journalist James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald wrote.

So, what did he do when he got negative press? Instead of being put off, Barnum used the poor review of his show as an advert, offering half price entry to those who brought the advert with them to the ticket office. The result was a string of sell-out performances. As Barnum says in the film: “Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd.”

 “There’s no such thing as bad publicity”

~P.T. Barnum

But that wasn’t the only marketing tactic shown in the film. Others included handing out flyers, milk bottle advertising, pasting posters all over New York, as well as using other outdoor media, like adverts on the side of trains.

Having read even more about him, I’ve also learned that he once used a circus elephant to plough the front yard of his Connecticut home. The idea being to attract commuters’ attention on the nearby train tracks into New York City!

So, what can we learn from marketer extraordinaire Barnum, 150 years on?

  • Truly know your audience
  • Truly believe in what you sell
  • Take truly creative risks
  • Think outside the box (truly)