What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Twenty per Cent cheaper than goods usually imported.”
In a notice that appeared in the advertising supplement that accompanied the December 8, 1767, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, William Gowdey relied on appeals to price to move the merchandise he had recently imported and stocked at his shop in Broad Street in Charleston. Before listing his wares he informed potential customers that they would enjoy special bargains when they visited his shop: he set prices “twenty per Cent cheaper” than his competitors usually charged. To demonstrate that was indeed the case, rather than a false promise designed to get customers through the door, Gowdey indicated the prices of several kinds of textiles. Readers could determine for themselves that the shopkeeper offered good deals on “mens worsted hose at 10s. 20s. and 30s. a pair” or “Osnabrughs at 4s. a yard.”
Even when they made appeals to price, most shopkeepers did not list prices in their newspaper advertisements during the colonial era. For instance, in the same issue William Glen and Son advertised many of the same textiles, but made only a general statement that they “will dispose of [their inventory] at a low advance.” Similarly, Thomas Radcliffe, Jr., promoted “very reasonable terms” but did not specify any prices. As a result, readers could not compare prices from one advertisement with those in another. Gowdey’s strategy depended on consumers already possessing some sense of the typical prices for popular goods and then recognizing good deals when they saw them. His assertion that his prices were “twenty per Cent cheaper” primed potential customers to imagine bargains, prompting them to become active participants in his marketing strategy when they saw the prices and confirmed for themselves that he did indeed sell at discounted rates. Such methods incited demand in the colonial era, just as they do today, when consumers who previously did not realize that they needed “mens worsted hose” or other goods in Gowdey’s advertisement decided that they could not pass up bargains once introduced to them.