In 1901 an editorial in Billboard said, “One of the great general agents in the show business in this country, M.W. E. Franklin, has coined an aphorism which will be endorsed by every circus man. He says there are three P’s essential to the success of showmen. They are: Printing, Parade and Performance. These three requisites are intimately associated, and without the trinity being closely kept together and considered, the show, no matter how great in any one particular, must fail. Good printing first attracts the attention of the public; the parade arouses the interest of the multitude and draws them to the show; the good performance creates talk and favorable comment, which follow the show, throughout the season.” (Jack Rennert, “American Circus Posters” Circus World Museum (1984) Introduction.
Good communication was the key for much of the success of the American circus. The communication of the arrival of a circus or of a circus performance has changed since the first circus in America. Advertising methods of the American circus changed, as the shows got larger, covered more territory and experienced more competition. Advertising methods of the American circus started with announcements in the local paper and mushroomed into thousands of posters to advertise a one-day stand that would cover the sides of buildings, storefronts and any vacant space in the town. These posters or “paper” had to excite the town about the pending arrival of the circus and it’s short stay in their city. The circus poster had to give the most important information that was easy to read, arouse their excitement and eye catching. These posters had to have the title of the show (in bold letters), the date, and the feature attraction.
John Ringling stated in a September 1919 article from The American Magazine states: “The language of the circus poster is unique. Originally it was the result of opposition shows striving to outdo one another in startling announcements. Charles, who is the greatest scholar in the family, and an authority on words, created a new vocabulary and the style caught public fancy. We understand now, although we did not at the time, that we had stuck upon the child-appeal in another form. All children and all primitive minds, love big words, and love exaggeration. The boy who sees four dogs in the back yard invariably says there are a thousand dogs out there. When he offers to bet, he always wants to bet a hundred million billion dollars. He is not striving to deceive, but to express bigness in his own way.
The circus posters do the same thing: There is no effort to deceive the public—but to express the hugeness of everything in figures that carry the idea. If we have fifty elephants, and say a hundred, it pleases rather than offends. On circus day, everybody wants to think and talk in big figures, because on circus day we are boys and girls again, and we want to believe that there are a hundred million trillion elephants in the parade, and a billion funny clowns, and whole bushels and bushels of beautiful ladies on white horses.” (Charles Philip Fox, “A Ticket to the Circus” Superior Publishing Co. Seattle (1959) 45-46.
The second “P” essential for the success of the circus is the parade. The parade was a regular feature of the American circus when small towns would be awakened by gigantic processions featuring three or four separate bands, great herds of elephants, cages of wild animals, performers, performers on horseback, clowns and bringing up the end of the parade the steam calliope. ( kall-ee-yoap) The street parade, like the posters main purpose, was to advertise that the show was in town, and create excitement and enthusiasm. The street parade also affected the three senses of man—sight, sound and smell.