Changing a Brand Icon – Elephants to Leave the Circus


An astonishing piece of news on March 5th, 2015: Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey  announced that they would phase out all elephant acts by 2018.

Certainly an exciting day for animal rights activists who have been advocating for the elephants for roughly 14 years, this will also have a significant impact on the global circus brand.

While circus type shows (some 100% animal free) have been quite successful, the traditional circus has always included animals of some sort, and the elephant has become an iconic representation of the circus.

Shows such as Cirque du Soleil who dazzle the audience with astounding feats and visuals, and traditional 3-ring circus compete with not only each other, but all forms of entertainment. Audience options range from movies, theaters production, and magic shows, to spectacular light shows and concerts, and other wonders that technology and modern society trends have introduced into the market. But the nostalgic essence of the 3-ring circus has always been tightly tied to the elephant.

The view Ringling always propagated was that you can’t have the circus without the elephants, but the global success of Cirque du Soleil shows that you don’t need to have animals of any kind to have a circus.

What will replace the elephant icon?

From a branding  perspective, this is what intrigued me the most—what will the “new” circus brand be? Will we see more visuals of acrobatics, or is that too close to Cirque de Soleil? Will magic find a new featured home within the 3-rings? Or will we see more technological feats introduced… holographic elephants anyone?

I looked through vintage images of circus  posters to see if I could curb my branding mind from ruminating on the  subject for too long. And while I was almost  distracted from the glory that is vintage design (images below!), it also became quite clear that the circus marketing has always focused on the “center ring” attraction, not just the elephant.

My marketing side tells my branding side  that the elephant will be replaced with:

  • increased circus attendance (animal rights groups now supporting the circus),
  • new astounding center ring attractions,
  • and a new set of collectibles containing anything circus related with an elephant.

If the attractions hold up to audience expectations, the glory of the three rings will continue to be a place for happy childhood memories (or horrors if you have a clown phobia) and a place for those blessed with un-thought of talents to share their wonder with the world.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top