What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?
“All Sorts of Tobacco … ALL WHICH WILL BE SOLD CHEAPER THAN CAN BE BOUGHT IN TOWN.”
When Neal M’Intyer advertised that he sold an assortment of goods “Cheap for Cash or short Credit” he made a standard marketing appeal that would have been familiar to potential customers in the eighteenth century. Appeals to price and quality were the most common means of attracting attention throughout the eighteenth century; both remain popular today.
In marketing the tobacco he sold, however, M’Intyer elaborated on the standard appeal of low prices. After naming nearly a dozen varieties he announced “ALL WHICH WILL BE SOLD CHEAPER THAN CAN BE BOUGHT IN TOWN.” Most wholesalers and retailers did not mention specific prices in their advertisements, just as M’Intyer neglected to do here. Although he did not lock in a specific low price, he did challenge potential customers to engage in comparison shopping, visiting other shops around Portsmouth to find out how their prices for “Ladies superfine Pigtail” or “Best inspected Virginia Leaf.” Once potential customers had a sense of what M’Intyer’s competitors charged for tobacco they might feel even more enthused about the price he named at his store.
Some modern retailers promise that they will match or beat the prices of their competitors. M’Intyer did not explicitly make that pledge in his advertisement; that bit of wording was a further advertising innovation that waited for another time. Yet the offer he made in his advertisement may have amounted to the same practice once customers reminded him that he had publicly announced that his tobacco “WILL BE SOLD CHEAPER THAN CAN BE BOUGHT IN TOWN.” If M’Intyer did not beat his competitors’ prices, customers could accuse him of breaking his word. Even worse, such news could spread, damaging M’Intyer’s reputation. Advertisements were (and are) designed to shape consumer behavior, but they also set up expectations and obligations for the advertisers themselves.