January 17

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

Essex Gazette (January 17, 1769).

“Will be sold greatly under the usual Prices, to clear off his Stock.”

CLEARANCE SALE!!! Robert Alcock did not deploy a striking headline when he placed an advertisement in the January 17, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette, but his marketing strategy did indeed amount to throwing a clearance sale. He announced that his inventory included “AN Assortment of Checks” (or textiles woven with a checked pattern) in various widths as well as “Breeches Patterns, and Hose of all Prices, with a Variety of other Articles.” Yet the abundant choices he made available to consumers was not the primary focus of his advertisement. Instead, he made the sale he was sponsoring the centerpiece of his marketing efforts.

John Appleton advertised in the same issue of the Essex Gazette. His comment on price was typical of advertisers who mentioned how much prospective customers could expect to pay for their merchandise. Appleton asserted that he was “determined to sell very low,” but in doing so may not have garnered particular attention from readers. He adopted such formulaic language that it likely communicated to prospective customers that his prices were competitive rather than inflated but perhaps not bargains that could not be found in other shops.

Alcock’s appeal to price, on the other hand, deviated significantly from the standard language that appeared in newspaper advertisements throughout the colonies. He proclaimed that he offered his wares “greatly under the usual Prices, to clear off his Stock.” Unlike Appleton’s “determined to sell low,” this vocabulary stood out. It did promise better deals than consumers would encounter in other shops around town. Politics may have played a role in shaping Alcock’s advertising. If he had stockpiled imported goods in advance of nonimportation agreements enacted to protest the Townshend Act going into effect, he may have found himself in a position that he needed to devise an innovative marketing strategy. Whatever the reason, Alcock determined that his inventory was too large and that he needed to drastically reduce it. His efforts to “clear off his Stock” by selling it “greatly under the usual Prices” was an eighteenth-century clearance sale that lacked much of the hoopla that later accompanied such sales as part of modern marketing campaigns.

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