What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A VERY large and neat Assortment of English Goods.”
Joseph Russell and William Russell, two of the city’s most prominent merchants, regularly advertised in the Providence Gazette in the early 1770s. They placed their notices for short periods, sometimes running more than one at a time. Consider their marketing efforts during the summer of 1771. On June 29, they inserted an advertisement to inform prospective customers that they now stocked “A VERY large and neat Assortment of English Goods, Ironmongery, Brasiery, Cutlery, Haberdashery, Stationary,” and other goods imported from London. That advertisement ran for four consecutive weeks before being discontinued on July 27. Two weeks after first placing that notice, the Russells placed another advertisement, that one for “THIRTY Barrels of choice Connecticut Pork” as well as corn and textiles. It also ran for four weeks, appearing in the July 13 and 20 editions of the Providence Gazette with the other advertisement. On July 27, the Russells published just one advertisement, but on August 3, the last issue for the advertisement about pork, they ran a new advertisement for imported goods. It also appeared for four weeks.
When it came to advertising, the Russells made deliberate choices. According to the rates that John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, inserted in the colophon, “ADVERTISEMENTS of a moderate Length (accompanied with the Pay) are inserted in this Paper three Weeks for Four Shillings.” The Russells did not opt to have their notices run for the minimum amount of time before removing them. Instead, they added an additional week to allow for greater exposure, but then retired their advertisements and devised new notices. Doing so allowed them to keep their enterprise visible to prospective customers without risking readers dismissing advertisements that became too familiar. Did advertising in eighteenth-century newspapers work? The Russells seemed to believe that advertising was indeed effective, at least when properly managed, or else they would not have placed so many notices in the Providence Gazette and incurred the expenses of doing so.