When You Don’t Promote, a Terrible Thing Happens . . . Nothing

P. T. Barnum? Pat Williams? Billboard? Ford Saeks? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Human attention is a scarce commodity. Considerable effort is required to attract potential customers to a new business or product. Here are two versions of a pertinent saying:

  • Without advertising, a terrible thing happens . . . Nothing.
  • Without promotion, something terrible happens . . . Nothing.

These statements have been attributed to the famous showman Phineas T. Barnum. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that this saying was employed by P. T. Barnum who died in 1891.

The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in December 1975 in “The Danville Register” of Virginia. A radio station printed a message encouraging readers to purchase broadcast advertisements. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

When you don’t Promote
A terrible thing Happens

The author was unspecified, and QI believes an anonymous copywriter crafted the statement. Many years later, circa 1999, the saying was implausibly reassigned to P.T. Barnum.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading When You Don’t Promote, a Terrible Thing Happens . . . Nothing


  1. 1975 December 7, The Danville Register, (Advertisement), Quote Page 15B, Column 3, Danville, Virginia. (Newspapers_com)