Barnum's Zing Zang Zoom is still 'The Greatest Show on Earth'

PT Barnum is recognised as being one of the heavyweight players in the history of advertising. He was also the father of personal branding. While you may not agree with his tactics, he has inspired masses of advertising practice and his stamp remains.

Any time you see something promoted as “jumbo” size, that word comes from Barnum. The term “white elephant” is also his. The story goes that Barnum had found success with a circus that included elephants. A competitor, trying to outdo him, got hold of a rare white elephant for his circus. Barnum’s response was to whitewash one of his own elephants and advertise the life out of it, not only eliminating the “unusual attraction” the competitor had, but also reducing the reasale value on the rare elephant itself.

Barnum’s the father of hype. He’s the guy that began the whole idea of the limited edition. The panic of missing out. He said “Once in a lifetime opportunity.” “Be the first to see…” and “Last time ever!” Think of all those music artists doing their ‘final’ tours. They leverage that messaging. It creates a sense of urgency.

Some of the more ugly aspects of Barnum’s advertising involved the sideshows and unusual freak shows he liked to use with his circus. He’d attract people to see the bearded ladies, the midget called Tom Thumb, and the dog-faced boy, to name a few. He sought to profit from the abnormalities of others. He saw that people would pay to see it, and he made the most of that opportunity.

Barnum is world-reknown, even today. He created The Greatest Show on Earth! And that name has stuck through all these years. Even in Australia we know of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. Of course, these days it looks a little different to the Barnum circus of old. There are still elephants, but they’re not painted white and in fact the circus has its own Center for Elephant Conservation.

Happily, I was invited with my kids to experience the Barnum and Bailey, Ringling Bros. Circus here in Denver courtesy of Feld Family Entertainment. I really wanted to see what this world-famous circus was like. Having animals in a circus today is still controversial, so I chatted with some friends beforehand and was really very pleased when I believe about 80% of the circus acts were not animal related at all.

I remember being brought up with Disney stories and Little Golden Books where the elephant in the circus is unhappy. These elephants were lovely to see. And they smelled of animal wash. They smelled a lot. So did the tigers for that matter. I’d happily help wash an elephant, but you can sort someone else to do the tigers thanks.

The boys and I had a really great evening at the Circus. There was one reference during the show to the Big Top, but we were in the Denver Coliseum, so part of the magic of that is lost. I did expect sawdust and perhaps to be a little closer, but the acts were spread all around the “ring” so it meant we got a good view and for some things we were really close up. While Harry was sitting there hoping someone would fall (he’s 11 and he’s a boy), Charlie was just loving all the circus antics. They loved the dog tricks in particular – which reminded Charlie of our own dog training experiences – and the humour of the tigers and trainer had him in giggle fits.

It really was an evening out for the boys and I that we enjoyed thoroughly. Charlie was asking the next day if we could go again, he enjoyed it so much. A tip if you’re going to head down there, is to of course eat well before you go. Eating at Denver Coliseum means you get really crappy food for an incredibly expensive amount of money, and of course they don’t let you take in your own food. To save you some money, you know I’m a coupon queen, so thanks to Feld, to finish up the post I’m giving you a discount code so you can get in cheaper when you book your tickets through ticketmaster. The show runs until October 11. You can see all the details here at Ringling.com and scroll to the bottom here to see another video we took on the night, of the female human cannonballs!

Ringling Bros. Coupon Code Details

  • The coupon code is MOM — four tickets for $44 Monday-Friday, and $4 off tickets for all weekend performances.
  • The tickets can be purchased from ticketmaster and by entering the MOM code in the “MC promotion” box when purchasing tickets.
  • Minimum purchase of 4 tickets required; additional tickets above 4 can be purchased at $11 each during the week and $4 off on weekends.
  • Offer not valid on Circus Celebrity, Front Row, or VIP seating.
  • Cannot be combined with other offers. Service Charges, facility & handling fees will apply .

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