What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Guerin & Williamson … will dispose of their remaining STOCK of Goods.”
Guerin and Williamson published this understated advertisement in the June 26, 1767, issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. The partners announced that, “INtending to decline the DRY GOOD BUSINESS, they will dispose of their remaining STOCK of Goods on hand, by wholesale or retail, on reasonable terms.” Their entire notice barely exceeded the number of characters contained in today’s tweets, yet their advertising did not otherwise anticipate modern marketing efforts. They posted this brief advertisement in only one of the three newspapers published in Charleston at the time, limiting its market penetration. Guerin and Williamson were going out of business and wished to liquidate their remaining inventory. They offered attractive prices (“reasonable terms”) but did not pursue flashy techniques that eventually became associated with going out of business sales.
In preparing each entry for the Adverts 250 Project, I often argue that many modern marketing practices had their precursors in the eighteenth century. Rather than merely announcing that they had goods and services to sell, advertisers sought to incite demand and influence potential customers long before the rise of Madison Avenue. The road from eighteenth-century advertising to twentieth- and twenty-first-century marketing was not as long as often assumed. Guerin and Williamson’s advertisement, on the other hand, illustrates the distance between some of the practices common 250 years ago and today. Given the simplicity of their notice, it’s easy to understand why we so often focus on how much advertising has changed in the last two centuries rather than recognize similarities. In addition to enhancing marketing appeals over time, technological change and new media have played a role as well. What would Guerin and William’s advertisement sound like if it had been a radio or television commercial played on local markets? What would it look like as an email or a banner advertisement on a webpage? The stark contrast between those methods of delivering Guerin and Williamson’s advertisement and the newspapers that came off printing presses more than two centuries ago amplify the differences between modern marketing practices and those of the eighteenth century. Advertisements like this one from Guerin and Williamson seem to further confirm how significantly marketing has changed, making it all the more imperative to acknowledge the innovations and appeals in many other advertisements published in the eighteenth century in order to develop a better understanding of the state of marketing in the era.