Advertising A Circus
( Originally Published 1902 )
The other morning—being one of those raw, foggy, early spring mornings—in a rather pessimistic mood, while on my way down town, I happened; to note this:
"Stupendous Spectacle of Splendor. Miles of Moving Massiveness and Magnificence. Pyrotechnical Panorama Powerful and Prodigious," etc.
Ah-ha, ah-ah! The circus in town. The most interesting feature of the many interesting features in this vast, varied, bewildering and colossal aggregation of masculine and feminine bipeds—animals, domestic, imported, tame and ferocious—objects of art, utility, amusement, instruction and interest is the man who writes the circus ads!
Pessimism vanished optimism reigned in its stead. I dropped this personage a note—he promptly answered from his office in Madison Square Garden where the circus is holding forth, and presently he gave me an interview which contains much that has never appeared before in print and which will surely interest the general advertiser, for back of the wall of words that dazzle, enrapture, shock and confound the defenseless public there is a well defined plan of advertising—intelligently conceived and as intelligently executed.
Mr. Whiting Allen is the circus word wonder worker -the publicity promotor—the advertising man. He has been writing show advertising for about twenty years. Judging by his appearance he must have begun to professionally exercise his vocabulary when about eighteen years of age.
His is a difficult profession, and not more than half a dozen out of the many who have essayed it have made a reputation. Mr. Tody Hamilton (who exploited the Barnum show in Europe) and Mr. Allen stand at the top of their profession. Here is a specimen of Mr. Allen's work:
Human birds of passage, indeed, are the Ten Peerless Potters. They embrace the ten acknowledged greatest of all the world's aerialists who have been secured from all the arenas of Europe and America. Individually each member of the dectette is a brilliant star in the aerial firmament, while collectively they constitute the most dazzling constellation that has ever sparkled beneath the vast and lofty dome of canvas that canopies the greatest of all earth's arenas."
The man who loops the loop before beginning his performance might take this mild sentence as a bracer:
" In all man's struggles and strife in seeking supremacy by superiority in strength, skill and strenuosity, there has never been anything like an approach to this fearful, frightful and fearless feat in rash and reckless risk of limb and life."
It is evident that Mr. Allen believes in alliteration. In discussing it and other matters he said :
"In alliteration I aim to use words intelligently. They must be clear and comprehensive—so must my metaphors, and I do not believe in using polysyllabic words simply to use them. They must be expressive. Alliteration is like the cable that grips a street car—it grips the mind and insensibly the mentality of the reader is caught by one word only to be gently but surely passed on to the next.
"This alliterative, polysyllabic method of circus advertising is the only way to advertise a circus. People look for it. It has been established by precedents and is too well grounded in circus traditions to be good business policy to get away from it."
"Kindly tell me the circumstances and conditions under which you produced this season's literature?" I asked him.
" Last winter I took a small back room in the Townsend Building, New York, which was used for storage by our folks. I had a couple of kitchen tables, a copy of the Congressional Directory and a copy of Pettengill's Newpaper Directory. These volumes happened to be there-simply happened there, and I never opened them. No! I had no dictionary. I was given a list of the performers—so many bareback riders, so many acrobats, so many clowns, etc. These names were typewritten on one side of a flimsy paper. From such simple data I produced my literature."
The luxuriant growth of words that follow a luxuriant imagination is illustrated by the simple data and ornate description that follows:
DATA:—" Paul and Katherine De Venes—French equestrians in Drawing Room Scene."
" FRENCH FANCY
Equestrianism in a Long Train Gown. `
OF all the long list of artists that have been gathered from the great arenas of the world, two of the most interesting have been contributed by France, the De Venes—Paul and Katherine. They are artists extraordinary. Equestrians of the very highest order, it remained for a beautiful and dainty French-woman to conceive the idea of riding in a full length drawing-room gown en train. It is sometimes of the snowiest white satin, sometimes of the warmest cardinal silk, and again of the richest sapphire velvet. Together with Monsieur, the fair Mademoiselle mounts a horse, in her long train dress, and the two artists proceed to place them-selves in a series of poses of exquisite and classic grace, the while their horses continue their ambling and circling journey.
Again the great artists appear, this time in acrobatic garb. Monsieur handles Mademoiselle as lightly and gracefully as a feather although she is by no means petite. All the things they do may not be told in this brief space, but they do not bow them-selves away before they give a most astonishing exhibition of what is known as cranial equilibrism. It is an act peculiarly their own, and is performed by no one else in the circus profession. To lovers of the novel and unique as well as the beautiful in physical accomplishment, these artists will be a genuine pleasure."
Mr. Allen continued the interview: "My literature is original every year. Advertising is to excite a desire for possession. In the circus business advertising is purely transitory. It is usually done for one day's business. Ninety per cent. of our entire season is in one day stands. A season averages six months.
"From thirty-five to forty per cent. of our gross receipts is spent in advertising, so you see we are very liberal advertisers. I study the geography of our advertising. In some sections you must do more than in others. We have about a hundred per-sons on our advertising staff at salaries ranging from thirty to sixty dollars per month as bill posters to the manager's salary of ten thousand dollars per year. Expenses are paid in addition to these salaries.
" A fair day's receipts would be five thousand dollars. Here in Madison Square Garden we are not surprised at ten thousand dollars. The high water mark was down at Dallas, Texas, when in one day we took in sixteen thousand dollars. The Texas state fair helped us in this.
" As we are liberal advertisers we stand ready to buy a lot of display advertising in papers in our territories. If we notice any attempt at imposition or extortion we cut down this advertising, as would any other business concern. I am pretty well posted on the value of quantities and qualities of circulations as well as rates, for I have made it my life study and very few papers can fool us.
"We are extremely liberal with tickets to the press and this of course helps in securing much straight news advertising although the mere arrival of a circus alone possesses such news interest that no live paper would overlook it.
" We issue talks on advertising which we distribute freely to the press. These talks tell in a brief and comprehensive way the value of advertising. These books are free and while given to boom the show are so highly appreciated by the papers at large that many of them use as editorials our advertising talks to impress local merchants and advertisers.
``We aim to adhere to facts in our advertising. You may smile but when you read a statement as to the number of horses, camels, trapeze performers or number of dollars invested in wagons or any of the circus paraphernalia you may set that down as gospel truth.
" We issue twelve publications with a combined circulation of five million, four hundred thousand copies. These publicationsare outside of our general appropriation for newspaper and bill board advertising."
The last statement of Mr. Allen tells why it is necessary that the circus advertising man must be a genius, a student of zoology, pageantry, pachyderms, aerialists, riders, clowns, menageries en masse and humanity en masse, including that highly important individual the country editor.
To fill up these twelve publications and other advertising with words that thrill and " excite a desire for possession" is a task so absolutely beyond the lay brain as to give the average citizen a severe fit of brain fag to simply contemplate producing a small fraction of such literature.
The " Aurora Zouaves," a band of extremely agile military men are introduced amid this paean of panegyric:
"My country, 'tis of thee! Words that should be a prayer on every.lip; a sentiment that should swell every breast a song that should be one grand chorus sung by eighty-five millions of Americans.
" Youngest but lustiest giant in the family of nations, who can say thee nay! In thy infancy didst thou wrest from a sceptered hand the priceless boon of liberty; in thy childhood thou didst resist victoriously further encroachments upon the vested rights from that same hand; in thy youth didst thou struggle success-fully with the grandsons of Spain and gain more room in which to grow; in thy young manhood the whole world stood in silence and saw thy blue and thy gray appeal to the arbitrament of the sword and then in closer fraternity forever unite; in the ripeness of maturity thou didst bid tyranny depart from the great islands of Eastern and western seas, and thou couldst not be denied? Oh, America! oh, my country, if thou art great thy sons have made thee so?
" America has won her now undisputed position as one of the great world powers, not by sentiment, but by supremacy at arms. Manila and Santiago were the twin lights of victory which illumined the world and revealed the strenuous superiority at sea of the world's greatest and freest people. Since the sinking and stranding of the Spanish ships off the shores of Luzon and Cuba, America has stepped further within the charmed circle of nations who rule the world, and her starry banner is now bathed in the sunrises and sunsets of both hemispheres. In the glistening eyes of all who would be free its fluttering folds more closely cling to Freedom's godlike form, added lustre is in the scarlet of its stripes and greater glory is in its symbolism of security and strength for the oppressed of all the earth.
On land as well as on sea has America shown her sons. Her soldiers no less than her sailors have worked to her greatness until the limit of her beneficence to man now knows no measure. And it is her soldiers you are now asked to consider. Nearest in Memory's vision of her conquering heroes are those gallant horsemen who rode up the heights of San Juan Hill and to glory, and saw the walls of Pekin fall. Of them more is said elsewhere in this publication. Especial attention is at this juncture asked for those men of arms and feet who are ever known to stand and advance face front to the enemy—the infantry.
"The most famous company of infantry in the United States is, beyond all doubt, the Aurora Zouaves. Theirs have been the victories of peace rather than the conquests of war," etc., etc.
Mr. Allen looks as though he enjoyed producing circus literature. The physical effort alone that is required to write miles of polysyllabic circus talk is enough to tax the strongest constitution. Mr. Allen has a strong right arm and herculean frame, admirably adapted to work in harmony with a brain seething with ideas, and a pen from which ink flows by the gallon. Mr. Allen has a wide acquaintance among the powers-that-be in Washington, which acquaintance, together with an extremely persuasive manner enabled him to pass a bill through Congress for the benefit of the Barnum and Bailey Shows—the only instance on record, perhaps, where a private bill has been passed by the government for the sole benefit of a circus.