What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“He is determined to sell as cheap as can be bought in any Part of America.”
Frederick William Geyer, a frequent advertiser in Boston’s newspapers in the late 1760s, advanced one of the most common marketing appeals of the eighteenth century: he promoted his low prices. He did not, however, resort to any of the stock phrases or formulaic language often deployed by shopkeepers and merchants in newspaper advertisements throughout the colonies. Instead, he made hyperbolic claims about the bargains prospective customers could expect to encounter upon visiting his shop. Geyer proclaimed that he was “determined to sell as cheap as can be bought in any Part of America, either by Wholesale or Retail.” Some advertisers compared their prices to others in the same city or the same region, but virtually none made such sweeping statements about prices throughout the colonies.
While readers certainly would have been skeptical of such a claim, Geyer won the advantage of forcing consumers to grapple with it. He planted the idea, challenging them to learn his prices and assess them on their own. At the very least, such language set his advertisement apart from others, making it memorable for its bold assertion. It also set the stage for negotiations between buyer and seller. Although Geyer did not promise to match the prices of his competitors, expressing his determination to offer the lowest prices “in any Part of America” suggested his willingness to make a deal in order to satisfy customers that he delivered on his rhetoric.
Eighteenth-century advertisers promoted their prices, not unlike advertisers today. Many relied on standardized language to make the most basic sort of appeal to potential customers, but the language of price was not static. Others, like Geyer, experimented with increasingly audacious descriptions of their prices to overshadow their competition and attract the attention of consumers. Even if readers did not immediately make purchases from Geyer, his advertisement contributed to a reputation that could convince consumers to visit his shop and check out his prices at some point in the future.