October 21

GUEST CURATOR: Lindsay Hajjar

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

oct-21-10201766-south-carolina-gazette
South Carolina Gazette (October 20, 1766).

“RUM … superior in quality to what is usually imported.”

This advertisement is interesting because it closely resembles advertisements we would see today, playing on people’s emotions that this rum was better than what they usually drank. I learned about types of persuasion in my Social Psychology class taught by Professor Maria Parmley. I think the type of persuasion the seller used is peripheral route to persuasion. The advertisement called for consumers to make the decision based on emotion, not facts (like how the rum was made or why it was better quality). Potential customers were told that the rum they were used to drinking was lesser quality than this rum “FROM the Island of Grenada.” This type of precaution tactic is commonly seen in advertisements today; when many people see a commercial with a beautiful model using the product they are more likely to buy it because the product then becomes associated with the model’s beauty. It’s interesting that the way of inciting people to buy one product over another has changed very little in 250 years.

John J. McCusker shows the importance of rum in the colonial American economy.[1] Rum, which was made from sugar that was being produced in the Caribbean colonies, was an important part of the import and export trade. Drinking alcohol, like rum, became an essential part of life for many of the colonists, providing an escape from the pressures of everyday life. Social drinking was something that the colonists have in common with people today. Even though we may not always realize it we have more in common with the people who lived in colonial America than we might assume. Through this advertisement you can see two things that the colonists and people of the twenty-first century had in common, the way consumers can be persuaded to buy goods and how both people today and people then care about the quality of the alcohol they drink.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Lindsay’s analysis of the sophisticated tactics Anthony Lamotte used to market his rum made me wonder how it compared to other advertisements for rum in the same issue of the South Carolina Gazette. Two other notices featured rum prominently.

oct-21-10201766-rum-in-south-carolina-gazette
South Carolina Gazette (October 20, 1766).

One brief advertisement announced that William Gibbes(?) had “CHOICE JAMAICA RUM, best MUSCOVADO SUGAR, and COFFEE, to be sold cheap.” This advertisement included two of the most common appeals from eighteenth-century advertising: price (“to be sold cheap”) and quality (“CHOICE”). However, Gibbes did not compare the quality of his Jamaican rum to any other rum, whether from the same island, the Windward Islands, or any other place. (The “3M.” in brackets may have been a printer’s note indicating that the advertisement was to run for three months. Perhaps Gibbes relied on repetition of his advertisement, rather than other means of persuasion, to attract customers.)

oct-21-10201766-rum-2-in-south-carolina-gazette
South Carolina Gazette (October 20, 1766).

Thomas Shirley advertised a hodgepodge of imported commodities, from flour to iron to Windsor chairs. “A few Puncheons of Jamaica Rum” appeared in the middle of Shirley’s list. Like Gibbes (“to be sold cheap”) and Lamotte (“TO BE SOLD, reasonably”), Shirley made an appeal to price (“to be sold reasonably”), but he made no other effort to distinguish the rum he sold. Some modern readers may be tempted to think that listing Jamaica in italics was intended to highlight the origins of his rum for consumers that considered production in some places superior to others. However, listing place names in italics was common practice throughout eighteenth-century advertisements. In addition, printers – not the advertisers themselves – usually made the decisions about typography.

As Lindsay notes, rum was an extremely popular commodity in colonial America. Amid already high demand, advertisers like Anthony Lamotte worked to direct that demand in their favor. To do so, Lamotte used a marketing strategy that emphasized more than just price and quality. He promised potential customers that his rum was “superior in quality” to others, playing on their emotions in the absence of providing evidence to explain why it was a better product.

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[1] John J. McCusker, “The Rum Trade and the Balance of Payments of the Thirteen Continental Colonies, 1650-1775,” Journal of Economic History 30, no. 1 (March 1970): 244-246.

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