What was advertised in a colonial America newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A few light green silk umbrelloes.”
In marketing his wares to potential customers, John Davies made many of the standard appeals that appeared in eighteenth-century newspaper advertising. He specified that his goods had been “Imported … from London” (and even named the vessel that carried them so readers could confirm how recently they had arrived). He offered customers choices, including “a great variety of printed cottons and linens” and “a large assortment of men and women’s neat made shoes and pumps.” He listed some of his goods to whet consumers’ appetites, but also allowed them to use their imaginations about what might be included among the “many other articles” in his shop. He gave assurances about the quality of his merchandise at the beginning and end of his advertisement. He also promised low prices, even mentioning specific prices for particular items as a means of guaranteeing those rates and allowing potential customers to assess the value themselves even before visiting his shop. When he stated that he sold his wares “proportionably cheap,” he likely offered discounts for buying in bulk, especially considering that he stressed that he stocked “a quantity” of several items, including printed linens and handkerchiefs. At a glance, Davies’ advertisement looks like a block of dense text, but on further examination readers discovered that it contained many of the most modern marketing strategies of its time.
In addition, Davies resorted to another sort of appeal not used quite as often in eighteenth-century advertising: an appeal to scarcity. He carried “a quantity” or “a large assortment” of several items, but only “a few light green silk umbrelloes.” This created a different sort of imperative for potential customers to visit his shop. Readers had many opportunities to purchase most of Davies’ wares, but his inventory included only a limited number of fashionable umbrellas. Anyone interested in such an item needed to buy it quickly or risk supplies being sold out. Without being heavy-handed in his approach, Davies created a sense of urgency when it came to obtaining one of the “few” green silk umbrellas he had imported from London.