The reality of advertising can be a little disappointing. We watch Mad Men and think that advertising is just clever gimmicks and fancy lunches. The truth is there’s a whole bunch of number-crunching, a whole lot of looking at your analytics and adjusting things an inch to the left or to the right to get a three percent bump in visibility. It may just be the least exciting form of betting. But, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be fun. P.T. Barnum was one of the weirdest and most innovative advertisers the world has ever seen. Here are some of our favorite techniques of his:


Unable to garner interest in his museum of oddities, P.T. Barnum once paid a man to lay a trail of bricks from the front door to the back, and back again. He would place the bricks, then take the rear brick and move it to the front and so on. As he would lay these bricks on the street, people would begin watching. If they wanted to keep watching, of course, they would have to pay to get into the museum. Many would stay, observing the strange sights within the museum itself. Others would keep following the man laying the bricks, paying to get back in every time they followed him out, of course.

The Six Foot Tall Man Eating Chicken

At P.T. Barnum’s sideshows, he had a tent featuring the amazing “six foot tall man eating chicken.” When you paid to get in, what you saw was a six foot tall man, eating chicken. Visitors rarely got mad. They didn’t get ripped off, they were brought in on the joke, and they would tell their buddies, “You must see this,” and then have a laugh when they were similarly fooled by the show.

The Free Grand Buffalo Hunt

P.T. Barnum once conducted a “Free Grand Buffalo Hunt.” The hunt was an old west rodeo-style show, and it actually was free, that wasn’t a scam. But New Yorkers eager to see the event taking place in Hoboken would need to take the ferry to get there, and Barnum had a deal with the operators to take half of the net receipts for everyone he could get on board. Barnum wound up with $3,400 in his pocket by the end of the day.

If you’d like to read up on this great marketer, P.T. Barnum’s “The Art of Money Getting,” reveals that the big secret to earning a living is that there are no secrets. Hard work can pay off, but it takes a bit of luck and a willingness to fail, and very few people get rich quick. People may have bought the book hoping for quick tips, only to find some surprisingly solid advice. This helped Barnum to build his brand not only as a showman, but as a leader in the business community. Many marketers today do much the same, only without nearly as much sound business advice as Barnum dispenses in his own book. Whether you’re running a traffic school, a restaurant or a book store, we could all stand to learn a little something from P.T. Barnum about showmanship, and how to give the people what they want, even if they don’t know what that is until you show it to them.

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