February 4

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

Providence Gazette (February 4, 1769).

“They CAN, DO, and WILL, sell as cheap for Cash as any Merchant or Shop-keeper in New-England.”

In their advertisement in the February 4, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette, Ebenezer Thompson and Company deployed two of the most popular advertising appeals of the eighteenth century. They promoted price and consumer choice.

The partners informed prospective customers, especially their “COUNTRY FRIENDS” who might not spend enough time in Providence to go from store to store comparison shopping, that “their Goods are always laid in on the very best Terms.” That prompted Thompson and Company to make an extraordinary claim: “they CAN, DO, and WILL, sell as cheap for Cash as any Merchant or Shop-keeper in New-England.” If that was indeed the case, then there was no need to do any comparison shopping! Advertisers usually wrote the copy but left it to compositors to determine the format of their advertisements, but the assertion that Thompson and Company “CAN, DO, and WILL” sell their goods for prices as low as any to be found in New England suggests that they may have provided some instructions about the appearance of their notice.

In addition to price, Thompson and Company also promised an array of choices for their customers. They stocked a “COMPLEAT and UNIVERSAL Assortment of European and East-India GOODS.” Many advertisers would have considered such language sufficient, but Thompson and Company further elaborated. Their inventory consisted of “a GREAT VARIETY of Articles,” so many that they were “too numerous to be comprized within the Limits of an Advertisement.” That was a clever approach, especially considering that many advertisers did attempt to list as many items as possible in their newspaper advertisements. Some notices included dozens, scores, or even hundreds of items, extending as much as an entire column or, in some cases, filling an entire page. Readers certainly would have been familiar with such advertisements, making it all the more compelling that Thompson and Company proclaimed that even making such an attempt was futile.

Although Thompson and Company selected two of the most common advertising appeals of the era, they added an innovative touch to both. They did not merely reiterate the standard language of price and choice found in so many advertisements in newspapers printed throughout the colonies. Instead, they started with strategies that advertisers already considered effective and reworked them to make them even more enticing for prospective customers.

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