November 16

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

Nov 16 - 11:16:1767 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (November 16, 1767).

“To be sold by John Spooner, Choice Raisins.”

Considered on its own, John Spooner’s advertisement seems to do little by way of marketing. At a glance, this item appears to be merely an announcement. Its length – short enough to publish in a modern tweet (even a few days ago before Twitter doubled the numbers of characters) – did not allow Spooner to develop appeals to consumers, though he did make a nod toward quality by describing his raisins as “Choice.” The typography may have also drawn readers’ eyes, though the phrase “Choice Raisins” was no larger than the names of advertisers John Hunt, Henry Laughton, and Joshua Blanchard elsewhere on the same page.

The potential effectiveness of this advertisement cannot be understood by examining the copy and the layout alone. Taking into account its placement on the page relative to the specific content of other items, Spooner’s advertisement becomes much more powerful as an example of product placement in the eighteenth century.

It appeared in the middle column on the front page, immediately after a “Receipt

to make RAISIN WINE.” T. and J. Fleet, the printers of the Boston Evening-Post, reported that they were “desired to publish” the recipe “for the benefit of the public,” though they did not indicate who made that recommendation. While Spooner may not have had any influence on the layout of news items and advertisements, the placement of his advertisement for “Choice Raisins” right after the recipe for raisin wine certainly seems like more than a fortunate coincidence. It raises suspicions that Spooner may not have considered it necessary to devise more extensive copy because he planned to have the recipe do the necessary marketing to incite demand for his raisins.

Even though it appeared as a separate and distinct item, perhaps the recipe should be considered one portion of a slightly longer advertisement. Some of its instructions suggested that consumers needed to obtain raisins as soon as possible if they wished to make their own raisin wine. The first line advised that readers should begin the process in October or November. Given that it appeared in print midway through November, readers needed to make haste getting started. That included purchasing the necessary supplies, especially raisins. The recipe eventually acknowledged that the process “may be begun in February or March,” but concluded with an assertion that “the fall is the best time.” The recipe then almost seamlessly flowed into Spooner’s advertisement for “Choice Raisins.”

The placement of the recipe and Spooner’s advertisement suggests deliberate product placement in an eighteenth-century newspaper. On its own, Spooner’s notice does not appear particularly innovative, but when considered in the context it may very well have deployed the most sophisticated marketing strategy of any advertisement in that issues of the Boston Evening-Post.

Nov 16 - 11:16:1767 Recipe Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (November 16, 1767).

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