Advertising And P.T. Barnum
( Originally Published 1898 )
Probably no other single sentence ever hurt business so much as the remark by P. T. Barnum that "the American people like to be humbugged."
You have heard half a hundred people say of different stores; "I will never go there again. They are cheats. They advertise so-and-so, and when I got there they didn't have it, or it wasn't nearly as good as they said in the advertisement."
If a pleased customer is the best of all advertisements, isn't a displeased one the worst? How often the opportunity comes to say: "Oh, I wouldn't go there again; why don't you go to Blank's?"
That comes from being humbugged—because the merchant believed Barnum.
And Barnum himself didn't really humbug people. His show was really "the greatest on earth," and really gave a great big fifty cents' worth for half a dollar. An occasional woolly horse or white elephant, more or less, didn't matter much. People went to Barnum to be amused and he amused them. People go to the theatre and if they are carried away by the play and laugh and shed tears over the incidents they are "humbugged"—to be sure—they believe for the time all the fiction of the play; it is real to them. But how much more would they be humbugged if the play didn't seem real? If Barnum advertised a woolly horse, and then show something which could by no possible stretch of imagination deceive anybody, that would be humbug.
No, Barnum didn't humbug. He amused. He advertised to furnish amusement and he did. Even his lies were amusing—entertaining. We, none of us, believe in fairy tales, but most of us, children or grandpas, like to read them.
But we don't buy groceries and drugs and dry goods for amusement. Not a bit of it. We buy them because we have to, and we want honest value for our money and no nonsense about it. If we can't get it in one store we'll go to another. We don't liked to be humbugged, and we won't if we can help it.
Barnum was wrong.
He's dead, anyway.