Forget The Greatest Showman – was P.T Barnum ‘The Greatest SPINman’ of all time?

If you haven’t been aware of The Greatest Showman bubble we’ve all been living in since Christmas, do you even own a phone with acceptable 3G coverage? (or clearly you haven’t been paying the Wifi bill in your student houses).

Because if Hugh Jackman Gifs are not dominating your Twitter, or Zac Efron all up on your Facebook newsfeeds, then you’ve definitely heard the glorious soundtrack that’s been number 1 on iTunes for as long as Apple have had, well, an apple, as their logo.

For those of you who weren’t like me and went to see the musical phenomenon 3 times… yes, you did read that right (“the biggest-grossing original live-action musical EVER”)!

Showtime gif (1)

But let me assure you, there are *no spoilers* in this Blog.

However, what this blog is written about is the very man (played by the delightful Hugh Jackman) that this global movie is ‘loosely’ based on – the infamous life of the legendary showman and crowd-pleaser Phineas T Barnum, which many historical critics argue is “the man who in the 19th century possibly invented entertainment as we know it today.”

He may have invented entertainment, but he also invented his own style of questionable PR.

A man full of bigger-than-life ideas – Barnum marketed to an audience interested in mass, and often crass, entertainment regardless of how factual or ethical such displays were.


With the real question being… did PT Barnum use PR in an ethical way? Especially, when The Greatest Showman – the movie – is feel-good, joyful viewing, painting a celebratory “body-positive evangelism for diversity” and celebrating those in the world who are unashamedly different.

These different people – the ‘human freaks’ – in “the movie about a circus” have their backgrounds and anatomical achievements humorously exaggerated just a trifle by PT… for publicity purposes (of course). As the famous lyrics are musically sung by the All-Star cast – “impossible comes true… this is the greatest show.”

Greatest Showman Gif

Impressively, the ‘Irish Giant’ on the advertising posters wasn’t actually Irish. But the circus audience didn’t know that one… as PT says in the movie “the press will love it!”

However, the arguable thing about the real Barnum recorded in history, is that he was known to have presented “freakishness” in the form of “living curiosities” through active exploitation.

And although it’s not a spoiler, this explains why the movie shows so angry protesters outside the circus after every performance.

Unlike in the movie, which in musical style rejoices “I am me, I am who I’m meant to be” about the uniqueness of human beings, Barnum and his colleagues are said to have created ethnic stereotypes when cordoning off this swath of humanity as “different”.

The Guardian writes: “Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump has been frequently likened by political pundits to PT Barnum. A professional bullshitter with a penchant for loud rhetoric, fake news and racial prejudice? He doesn’t play down the comparison.”

So Donald Trump is the new PT Barnum?

I suppose the White House HAS been actively referred to as a ‘Circus’ in the past year…

In 1865, Barnum’s book Humbugs of the World aimed to inform the public he wasn’t a con-man – that he hadn’t achieved his rags-to-riches success story by scamming the public.

He wrote: “There are various trades and occupations which need only notoriety to insure success,” he claimed – concluding no harm, no foul, so long as at the end of the day customers felt like they got their money’s worth.

As the song suggests from the movie – “It’s everything you ever want, it’s everything you ever need.”

I could go as far as to say PT Barnum was a remarkable publicity man who knew how to work Public Relations in his career… to HIS advantage. (Maybe just not so much the people he caught in his webs whilst spinning whatever he could to achieve whatever he wanted).

The Greatest Showman musical has just reached a whopping $160.766m domestic total in the cinema, and let’s be honest ‘The Greatest Showman’ is what you will find – in PT Barnum or in Hugh Jackman’s efforts alone –  whether you agree with it or not.

It’s a thumbs up from me. 

showman end (1)

Chloe Campbell is a final year BSc in Communication, Advertising and Marketing at Ulster University.  LinkedIn: / Facebook: Chloe Campbell

‘The Final Hour’ – a step too far for Northern Ireland?

We all know, and/or have visited, the Titanic Quarter in Belfast by now.

Jam-packed with cameras, selfie sticks and groups from all over the world on a daily basis, Tourists flock to NI’s beloved Titanic Belfast every week. An iconic location next to the Titanic Slipways, Harland and Wolff, and Hamilton Graving Dock – the very place where Titanic was designed, built and launched in 1912.

No surprise it was crowned “World’s Leading Tourist Attraction” at the World Travel Awards in 2016. A recent report found that Titanic Belfast generated £105 million in additional tourism spend for the Northern Ireland economy. And if anything, as time goes on, the Titanic Quarter will become even more famous and an even bigger source of merchandising revenue for Northern Ireland.


But have NI in all its global fascination and quest for continued Tourism, gone a step too far this time?

Certainly, with all of this said, it can be very easy to forget this is all based on one of the biggest sea tragedies in history.

Thus, many think the company ‘Timescape’ have lost their minds with the announcement they are bringing their latest business venture to Castle Street, Belfast – The Titanic: The Final Hour.

A Titanic themed ‘escape room’ game which will see “teams of up to 6 given an hour to try escape a simulation of the stricken liner.”

At £18 per person ticket, Timescape advertise the experience as: “It’s 11:39pm on April 14, 1912 and you’re on the Captain’s Bridge at the helm of the RMS Titanic. Suddenly, the words ring out, ‘Iceberg, right ahead’. The placid sound of night is broken forever. You and your shipmates try desperately to avoid the iceberg but are unable.

Now you only have 60 minutes to seal the water tight doors, radio for help, put on your lifejackets; release the davits and get every woman and child into the lifeboats.

You must hurry but must not panic as the water rises and time runs out.



Before it arrives in December, there has already been public outcry, with The Belfast Telegraph reporting the objectionable views from the President of the British Titanic Society about this latest revenue adventure: “My personal thoughts are that this is a very distasteful idea, and highly disrespectful to the memory of those who died.

The Titanic disaster was not a game.”

Timescape owners however, maintain they have “taken great care to be respectful to those who perished. Our room and its props are as historically accurate as possible, and Titanic enthusiasts will surely be impressed with the level of detail.

The Titanic is a huge part of our own heritage and history and we are aiming to further enrich that, here, right in the heart of Belfast city.”

The Belfast Telegraph Editor’s viewpoint comments that “many people will feel the creation of a Titanic ‘escape room’ in a Belfast entertainment complex trampling on the graves of the 1,500 people who perished when the ship was lost more than a century ago.

It may seem an attractive commercial theme to those behind the idea, but it is really rather distasteful.

Titanic room.
Titanic room.

We should remember this tragedy with due respect, especially given the doomed vessel’s association with the city.”

BBC even got hold of the story and reported on their website that “Belfast have always had an ambiguous relationship with the Titanic, unsure of how to deal with the memory of the ship which sank. As time passed, a feeling of pride in the construction of the ship overcame any hesitancy to embrace the liner, its legacy and its financial potential.”

Pride perhaps, but it goes without saying, this is not a great start for a brand new business adventure; damaged with bad publicity, public concern and major criticism, before this “fun, adrenaline raising activity” even opens.

Timescape’s promotion to Tourists is: “Don’t miss out on the Titanic room to experience a part of Belfast’s history in a totally unique way.”

Unique, indeed.

Would you play this game?

(I think it’s safe to say Leonardo DiCaprio will not be taking part).


Chloe Campbell is a final year BSc in Communication, Advertising and Marketing student at Ulster University. She can be found on LinkedIn: / Facebook: Chloe Campbell.

Are you afraid of the dark… or afraid of Moz?

Like many people, I do await the Christmas TV ‘adverts’ around this time of year.

It’s that time of the year where high street stores compete in the sphere of PR, Advertising, and Marketing, (and in most cases all three), for the most original Christmas idea – trying to encourage consumers to ultimately go to their stores and spend a lot of well, money.

But in our modern digital age, these are no longer ‘just an advert’ between X Factor and I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here these days.

In particular, anticipation for the ‘new John Lewis Christmas Ad’ has become public fascination with a multi-mix media communication operations behind it to generate as much publicity as possible; promoting with the biggest companies and brands such as Google, Spotify, Whatsapp, Sky and teaming up with the children’s charity Barnardos, with 10% of proceeds from merchandise of cuddly toys and mugs, going to young child carers.


A spinning wheel of publicity, to reach as many people as possible, to get as many people talking abut you as possible, and to build excitement in as many people as possible, at the busiest time of the year.


Previous John Lewis campaigns have included the compelling stories of the Man on the Moon, Monty the Penguin and Buster the trampoline bouncing Boxer; a recurring theme to center on emotional stories, and remove branding to ensure attention from a captivated audience.

Their latest campaign introduces us to the lovable Moz the Monster, which focuses on the tale of a little boy and his friendship with an imaginary monster living under his bed.

I have to admit, on first watching the advert, I felt underwhelmed from the lack of “Christmassy feelings” I got, and had to watch it a few times to understand what the message of the campaign was.

But as always, with major publicity, these campaigns don’t always please everyone.


And as it turns out, not everyone is entirely happy with poor Moz.

Since the ad has aired, many parents have aired their concerns, with tweets joking “John Lewis putting the fear in every child thinking there is a monster under their bed! 10/10 guys.”

One annoyed parent also tweeted: “If your child is struggling with sleep related psychological trauma… John Lewis suggests you need to make them wait til Christmas for a bloomin’ night light.”

However, the glorious world of PR allows many to take on your own perceptions to the messages we receive from the media on a daily basis.

John Lewis’ tale is all about imagination.

My own interpretation is that to beat his fear of the dark, Joe creates an imaginary friend to overcome this fear… (albeit losing his recommended 8 hours sleep in the process).

But still, I believe the clever folk behind the John Lewis spinning machine aimed for the ad to be a very heart-warming, compelling story once again.

As always, parodies have made their way onto YouTube with millions of views, a nightlight featured in the ad was sold out online the next morning and #MozTheMonster and #JohnLewisChristmasAd was the top trending topic worldwide on Twitter, whilst many good-humored people also jumped on the bandwagon….


Asking my fellow peers how much they thought cost to make the ad, the general answer was £500,000 to £1 million.

Add another £6 million… and the advert is reported to have cost a whopping £7 million to make!

Many are outraged to hear of such an expense, with public opinion being that instead of spending so much money on ‘one ad’ (that is ‘lackluster’ in general) this money could actually have been put to good use and given to charity – that the 10% ‘proceeds of merch’ to Barnardo’s just doesn’t cover it.


However, brands are expected to spend a record £6 BILLION on Christmas advertising this year. This according to the Advertising Association, who state it is being driven by intense market competition, especially within the retail sector, and the rise of big-budget campaigns.

It believes spending on ads has jumped nearly 40% in just 7 years!

But with the likes of the delightful Ed Sheeran jumping on the Moz bandwagon – (and who doesn’t like Ed Sheeran these days?) is easy and cheap publicity in itself.


So, was £7 million worth it on good ol’ Moz? Not Christmassy enough? Too scary for children?

I think my overall call to action is to start a petition to get the wee Man OFF the Moon for 2018.

Yup. (I will be posting the link for you all to sign it).


Chloe Campbell is a final year BSc in Communication, Advertising and Marketing at Ulster University. She can be found on LinkedIn: / Facebook: Chloe Campbell.