What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Jackson’s Variety Store.”
William Jackson competed with many merchants and shopkeepers in his efforts to sell a “large & elegant Assortment of European, India and Hard Ware Goods.” In an advertisement in the June 24, 1771, edition of the Boston Evening-Post, he made appeals to price and consumer choice, but he also incorporated two marketing strategies not as frequently deployed by advertisers in eighteenth-century America.
The first enhanced his appeal to consumer choice. Rather than his name serving as the only headline, the first line declared, “Jackson’s Variety Store.” Most wholesalers and retailers identified their stores and shops only by their own names, though many displayed signs that became synonymous with the businesses they marked. Among other merchants and shopkeepers who placed advertisements in the same issue of the Boston Evening-Post, for instance, John Barrett and Sons, Edward Church, Henry Leddel, Richard Salter, and William Smith associated only their names with their shops. Jackson mentioned his shop sign, the Brazen Head, in his advertisement, but made his marketing even more distinctive by giving his store a second name, one not associated with the icon that marked its location. In so doing, he replicated the example of Gerardus Duyckinck, who for some time had been advertising his “Universal Store, Or The Medley of Goods … At the Sign of the Looking Glass, AND Druggist Pot” in New York. Duyckinck’s advertisements appeared regularly in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury in the late 1760s and early 1770s, including once again in the advertising supplement for June 24, 1771. Whether the “Universal Store, Or The Medley of Goods” or “Jackson’s Variety Store,” these advertisers encouraged prospective customers to associate names with their businesses, names that testified to the choices the proprietors made available to consumers.
Jackson’s other marketing strategy enhanced his appeal to price. He reported that “he has his Goods upon as good Terms as any Merchant in the Town” and passed along low prices to his customers. He was able to do so because he “has been in England himself the last Winter, and has visited most of the manufacturing Towns.” Jackson did not need to rely on correspondence with faraway merchants and manufacturers in placing his orders and acquiring his inventory. Instead, he visited the sites of production himself and negotiated prices in an efficient manner not possible via letters transported across the Atlantic. That also gave him an opportunity to inspect his wares for quality before arranging for shipment to Boston. Most other merchants and shopkeepers in the city could not claim to have undertaken that part of the business in person, giving Jackson an advantage to promote in his advertisement.
In giving his store a different kind of name, one not associated with the image on the sign that marked its location, and stating that he had visited the manufacturers himself in the process of acquiring his goods, Jackson refined two popular marketing strategies. Naming his business “Jackson’s Variety Store” underscored consumer choice, sending an even more powerful message if consumers took the cue and referred to the store by that name. Noting that he recently visited “most of the manufacturing Towns” in England allowed him to make claims to prices that matched or beat those of his competitors who merely sent away for goods.