The Internet: The New Freak Show?
Not too long ago, when times were simpler, we found entertainment through means other than a screen. Yep, kids played outside in creeks, we went to the local theater to see live plays, the yearly fair would come to display all of our prized creations and the circus would come to town. If you are too young to have experienced these simple pleasures in life, go take your grandparents out to lunch and learn about entertainment that wasn’t attached to a screen.
The circus coming to town was such an event. The parade would launch a three or four night run of nightly performances from flying trapeze artists, lion tamers, fire breathers to dog acts. We would get a big bag of popcorn and possibly a hot dog (the days before we knew the word nitrates) and go sit in the grand stands and be wowed and amazed. A charming ring master would lead us through a 2 hour show of death defying feats and comical clowns. As we walked out of the big tent of magic, we would be funneled into a row of items we could purchase; balloons, stuffed animals, flags, candy and the like. Then, off in the not too distant dark, we would see a smaller tent or possibly trailer, lowly lit, but alluring nonetheless, called The Freak Show.
I have a strong tie to the circus business having been raised in it. Yep, my parents worked for the circus and we traveled North America in search of finding audiences, entertaining the young and old, finding the next big act; only to move on to the next city to do it all again. Now at this point I usually hear someone say, “Was your mother the bearded lady? Did your father tame lions?” I only wish my story could be that alluring…that would be too story book perfect. My parents ran the business side of the show. From getting permits, booking show dates, marketing the events, setting up parades, hiring day staff to finding acts—they kept it running and operating. What I learned from this was life changing and I still find I apply strategies from it to my own business operations today. Yet, what I have learned most of all, came from the dirtiest and seediest part of the show, The Freak Show.
The Freak Show was your money maker, through and through. For a couple of bucks, you could enter a tent or in later years a trailer, filled with real and fake oddities. The bearded lady, the two headed cow my mom bought in Canada, the conjoined twins that had no where else to go and the man who ate glass(which didn’t actually happened, but looked really believable). The hopeful entrant was looking for something different, something they had never seen before and generally left feeling somewhat satisfied and partially taken. In the end, they were glad they did it and that it didn’t take too much time.
It was marketing brilliance that caught like wild fire through the industry. You just weren’t a show if you didn’t have your Freak Show. And the freakier you made it the more money you made.
As my parents grew old and retired from an industry of days past, I looked for how this form of entertainment is recreated and what I have found stuns me. The Internet, as brilliant as it is, has no shame in reclaiming the title of selling the Freak Show.
Everywhere I Google, everywhere I look, I see evidence of that dirty little trailer, dimly lit, paint pealing off, but calling my attention. Links to seeing celebrities in their not so finest of moments, clips to overhear our presidential candidates personal conversations, copies of stolen emails outing our greatest business leaders—all fine examples of organizations calling to the dirtiest of our interests and getting us on their sites. We are all prone to morbid curiosity and the internet has done a brilliant job of using our 21st century “Freak Show” as a way of making money off of it.
As dirty as it may seem, it continues to be Marketing brilliance at its finest. Feeding a market’s needs, in ways they don’t even want to admit it, gets attention and sales. Recognizing your clients Psychographics and what really pervades their thoughts and minds can help you attract them through various and sundry forms of advertisement, including the Freak Show. How far you go with a strategy such as this, as always, needs to stay in line with your culture, morals and values.
How to create your own version of the Freak Show?
Psychographics: If you have never done a psychographic profile of your target market, now is the time. You need to understand the entire mindset of your target market, not just their interest in your direct product or service, but everything that would attract their attention or interests.
Branding and Culture: Becoming a version of the freak show needs to stay within some set of boundaries defined by your morals, values and passion. Before venturing into territory that could feel “not right” for you and hence your organization, get clear on what lines you are willing to cross or not
Channels: Your target markets attention can be captured through many different marketing channels. Are you aware of them all? Are you clear on how many ways you can get their attention? Discover as much as you can so you use the right channel for the right message.