The Greatest Showman, P.T. Barnum’s Wild Antics Lead to Wild Success


I sat down in a dark theater with my two best friends on a Wednesday night to watch a movie that my friend chose. It was only the first week of the movie release and I didn’t have a clue what ‘The Greatest Showman’ was about.

When I found out it was about the life of P.T. Barnum, I had a PR fan girl moment - my friends, who aren’t in the public relations field, had no idea what I was talking about. In light of the movie that celebrates the beginning of show business and the advertising that keeps the public interested, I wanted to take a look at P.T. Barnum and how he used advertising to promote his events.


Phineas T. Barnum was the greatest showman and used several public relations and advertising tactics to draw people to his events that are now considered highly unethical in the PR field.

Exaggeration According to Barnum used excessive exaggeration and puffery in his advertisements claiming things like, “Great Model of Niagara Falls with Real Water” and “Captain Cook Club”. However, customers actually saw an 18 inch model of Niagara Falls with a small trickle of water and an old Indian club, far from what he claimed. Exaggeration would not go over well in todays society as consumers would feel cheated, not trust the brand, and like never purchase from them again.

Schemes The Greatest Showman was also known for his simple schemes that brought more money into his pockets. One scheme in his museum was a simple sign that read “This way to Egress”. Unsuspecting patrons who thought it was some kind of exhibit followed the sign which lead them outside the museum. They would then have to re-pay to enter the museum again. Similar to exaggeration, schemes are highly unethical as they would cause consumers to lose trust in the brand.

Opinion Leaders One thing Barnum got right was his use of opinion leaders and high class citizens. He would often fill the first night of his show with important people who would then tell their friends and create word of mouth buzz throughout the community. This tactic is still used today in a variety of ways. Opinion leaders are everywhere and include celebrities and social media influencers which can be a great resource for promoting products.

Nicole Raymond is a first-year graduate student in the IMC program, having graduated with her BS in public relations from EMU in April 2017. She is currently the graduate assistant for the Dean of the COB and serves as the VP of Member Relations for PRSSA, having served as the VP of External Affairs previously. Nicole enjoys spending time with her friends and family, crafting, and anything Harry Potter.

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