What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He will engage to sell as cheap … as any Person in Providence.”
When he advertised “ European and East-India GOODS” in the Providence Gazette in early June 1769, Thomas Greene resorted to two of the most popular marketing strategies of the eighteenth century: an appeal to consumer choice and an appeal to price.
He did not elaborate much on the choices he made available to prospective customers, but he did promise a “General and compleat Assortment” to anyone who visited his shop “near the Great Bridge.” Other advertisers sometimes provided extensive lists of their inventory, but many settled for “General and compleat Assortment” or some variation as a means of signaling choice to consumers. Elsewhere in the same issue Jonathan Russell promoted a “compleat Assortment,” Clark and Nightingale described a “new and compleat Assortment,” and Thurber and Cahoon hawked a “large and general Assortment” of imported goods. Greene’s choice of “General and compleat Assortment” did not much distinguish his advertisement from others, but it did demonstrate his awareness that customers expected some sort of assurances about choice or else they were unlikely to patronize his shop.
Greene put more effort into distinguishing his low prices from those of his competitors. Each deployed some form of standardized language to make the point to readers. For Russell, it was “the very cheapest Rate,” while Clark and Nightingale opted for “the lowest rate” and Thurber and Cahoon edged them out with “the very lowest Rates.” In contrast to these general statements, Greene made a firmer commitment to win over prospective customers. He pledged “to sell as cheap … as any Person in Providence,” assuring readers that they would not find better deals anywhere else. In effect, Greene offered the eighteenth-century version of a price match guarantee. Prospective customers could do some comparison shopping around town, but in the end Greene vowed that he would match any deals when readers chose to make their purchases from him. In so doing, he stood to increase his share of the market while luring customers away from his competitors.
Greene’s appeal to choice may have been generic, but his appeal to price was not. It was an innovative and crafty way of setting his advertisement apart from others that ran simultaneously in the Providence Gazette.