What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“If the linen is not liked, it will be taken back again, if not abused, and the money returned.”
In the fall of 1767 John McDonnell advertised “A Parcel of choice IRISH LINENS” in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. To entice potential buyers he resorted to several marketing appeals. Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, he underscored price. Indeed, he mentioned low prices even before naming the merchandise, first stating that customers could acquire his wares “at as low an advance as can be bought for in London” and only then revealing that he sold linens. Even though they had been transported across the Atlantic that did not raise the cost he charged for Irish linens in Charleston; local buyers enjoyed the same prices as their counterparts in faraway London. In addition, McDonnell pledged that he would not be undercut by any of his competitors, vowing to sell his linens “as cheaper than any in town.”
McDonnell also offered another opportunity for a potential customer to enjoy a discount, provided they had a willingness to purchase in bulk. “[A]ny merchant inclinable to purchase the whole,” he proclaimed, “will meet with a bargain.” McDonnell understood that he stood to generate greater revenues by selling his entire inventory at a reduced price than gradually selling smaller lots and perhaps ending up with surplus linens that never sold. (He was also willing to barter with customers who bought in bulk, accepting rice rather than cash.)
Yet emphasizing the low price was not the only marketing strategy McDonnell advanced in his advertisement. He also offered a money-back guarantee: “If the linen is not liked, it will be taken back again, if not abused, and the money returned.” He did stipulate one condition, that he would only accept returns and pay refunds if unsatisfied customers returned the merchandise in the same condition they purchased it. He needed to protect his own interests even as he proposed an arrangement that worked in potential customers’ favor.
Relying exclusively on text without images, McDonnell constructed a vibrant advertisement to convince readers to purchase his imported Irish linens. He made nods toward quality and customer service, but repeatedly emphasized low prices and bargains for consumers. If that was not enough to attract buyers, he also provided additional assurances about quality via an innovative money-back guarantee. Readers had nothing to lose if they gave McDonnell and his linens a chance.