The carny barker is a nostalgic image from nearly a century ago when the art form was perfected by a great number of consummate practitioners who effectively acted in a manner comparable to today’s one on one audience interactions in order to drive ticket sales to any event. If you learn from the carny barker’s art you can apply the universal and timeless lessons to your event’s social network presence and get those followers to “step right up!”
Great carny barkers include Jackie Gleason, Ed McMahon & Penn Jillette
Before you think that all carny barkers are low life poverty ridden nomads who are not worth emulating, keep in mind that memorable comedian Jackie Gleason, Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show sidekick Ed McMahon, and the man who convinced Elvis to part with 50% of his lifetime earnings in exchange for his expert management, Col. Tom Parker, all had their start as carny barkers. The only talking half of one of the world’s most popular magic acts, Penn Jillette, fancies himself as a carny barker and his performances are essentially loud “in your face” continuous invocations to the audience to “buy in” to the next trick he and his perennially silent partner Teller are about to perform.
Engage individual passersby & get them to buy a ticket
Each nation has its own specific tradition of carny barkers but they all essentially perform exactly the same task. They have to engage individual carnival passersby and encourage them to buy a ticket to enter the carnival itself or a specific paid attraction within the carnival. These attractions could have been the invulnerable man or the amazing lizard lady, but the bottom line was always the bottom line: event ticket sales. The fact that most of these attractions were either freak shows or completely faked does not in any way diminish the extent of the carny barker’s extremely effective and specifically targeted processes. Their task was to pick a person from the crowd, address them directly, and get them to commit to attending the event. If it was a burly longshoreman he might want to compare his build to the Incredible Strongman or if it was a demure elegant lady she might want to witness the Bearded Woman.
The carny barker & the social media event marketer share identical tasks
In essence the task of both the carny barker and today’s social media event marketer are identical in virtually every aspect. Simply replace the carnival atmosphere with electrons speeding along fiberoptics and you have today’s social media event marketing. Carny barkers are not broadcasters of predetermined advertising messages to the masses, as they identify within the crowd specific individuals with a particular characteristic which they can play on. What awaits inside the tent is always portrayed as something which will astonish and amaze the attendee and provide an emotion, sensation, or experience which they will remember forever and which they cannot attain anywhere else at any price. Similarly, the social media event marketer has to provide the type of content and deep engagement on an individual basis through the analysis of their potential attendees’ characteristics and previous behaviors to demonstrate to them that the event offers that “emotion, sensation or experience” which cannot be duplicated by any other competing event.
The way the best of the carny barkers perform is to scan the crowd for the individuals which are most likely to be susceptible to the pitch based on their own experience and then look at them straight in the eye in order to convince them to part with their hard-earned money. It’s not so much hucksterism as it is pure psychology. They are able to size up a prospect at a glance and then promise them that what lies beyond the flapping canvas will provide them with the experiential event they either consciously or even subconsciously desire. Consider the carnival crowd your band of followers and the barker’s pitch your integrated cross-channel sequence of posts and tweets. If you can apply the barker’s principles to your event’s social media presences you will find that everything that’s old is new again!