“There’s One Born Every Minute…” Are You The Sucker?

“There’s a sucker born every minute” is a famous quote attributed to the incredible showman, storyteller and marketing genius, P.T. Barnum. Yet the credit should not go to him.

David Hannum is the rightful owner of this often-quoted statement, and he first issued it as a jab toward Barnum and his clientele.

As the story goes, Hannum is credited as the man who brought the story of the Cardiff Giant to the masses. He created an attraction for this legend, complete with the remains of a 10’ petrified man whom he claimed to have uncovered in upstate NY. The attraction was so popular with the viewing public that it caught the attention of P.T. Barnum.

First to market

While Barnum may have been beloved by families for creating the ultimate recreation pre-Walt Disney, he was also a fierce and formidable marketing force. When he saw something that was making money, he wanted it and would go to all ends to make it his. He offered Hannum a sum for the Cardiff Giant but Hannum refused all negotiations.

 So what would you do if you were Barnum? 

Simple: Barnum created a cheap knock off and began marketing his own Cardiff Giant.

With Barnum’s exceptional marketing ability, his knockoff quickly attracted the masses and surpassed Hannum’s original attraction, causing a tremendous loss of market share for Hannum. And here is where the quote was issued…

Enraged, Hannum was quoted in the newspapers saying “There’s a sucker born every minute.” He was referring to Barnum’s audience whose standards were, in Hannum’s mind, low enough to pay to see Barnum’s inferior “knock off.”

Both giants were ultimately revealed as fakes but the entire scenario parallels a very genuine and cautionary tale that applies to your business regardless of the era.

David Hannum was first to market with his tall tale. 

David put in the legwork, invested the capital, established the product (the story, the presentation and the prop) but along came disruption in the form of P.T. Barnum who simply replicated David’s business model (some would say at a lesser quality) and began chipping away at his profits.

Unprepared For Fighting Disruption

The undiscerning viewing public was easily swayed away. They did not care about David’s claims to being the original, the genuine or the first-ever. David got comfortable and rested on his laurels while another choice entered the marketplace and with P.T.’s marketing machine already primed, by the time Hannum knew what had happened, he was doomed.

P.T. stole the attention, the notoriety, hell, he even stole David’s quote which originally was a slam on Barnum and his “sucker” clients who didn’t know any better and made it his own.

“There IS a sucker born every minute”
let’s make sure it’s not you!

It’s never too early to begin fighting disruption. Learn how differentiation can decommoditize and future-proof your brand. Contact me today.

Jesse James Wroblewski

Differentiation Consultant

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