What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Just imported from LONDON, by Joseph and William Russell …”
Joseph and William Russell placed this rather modest advertisement in the October 24, 1767, edition of the Providence Gazette. In length and format, it resembled other advertisements for consumer goods and services in the same issue, but regular readers might have wondered at the Russells’ restraint when it came to marketing the goods they imported from London. After all, nearly a year earlier the Russells placed a full-page advertisement in the Providence Gazette, an advertisement that ran several times over the course of the next few months.
When they discontinued that advertisement, their consumer notices still tended to include some sort of innovative strategy that distinguished them from other advertisements. In January, for instance, they explained that their “Assortment [of goods] is too large for an Advertisement of Particulars in this Paper.” Even a full-page advertisement did not provide enough space to do any sort of justice to their inventory, they chided, so they left it to curious readers to conjure images of the “Assortment” of textiles, housewares, groceries, and hardware they would encounter when they visited the Russells’ shop “at the Sign of the Golden Eagle.” Deploying a “less is more” approach, they prompted consumers to do the imaginative work formerly accomplished by their elaborate list of goods that filled an entire page in the newspaper (and saved money on advertising in the process). Yet that strategy depended on their clever remark about the newspaper not having enough space to list their merchandise.
The Russells did not attempt any of that playfulness in their newest advertisement. They did resort to the standard “&c. &c. &c.” to suggest they carried more goods than the few items enumerated in their advertisement. They also made standard appeals to price and quality, but they did not insert anything that distinguished their advertisement from others published in newspapers throughout the colonies. Why not?
This merits further attention as the Adverts 250 Project continues to examine advertisements placed by Joseph and William Russell. If they never again published innovative advertisements after experimenting with a full-page advertisement and other clever appeals that could suggest that they determined that the effort and expense did not yield the desired results. Perhaps they determined that such marketing ploys were not any more effective than following the standard format. On the other hand, if they returned to publishing more elaborate advertisement that could indicate that they decided that such notices generated enough business to justify running them (and incurring the expense) once again. Either way, subsequent advertisements placed by the Russells may provide indirect evidence for assessing readers’ reception of their marketing efforts.