What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A large and compleat Assortment of well chosen GOODS.
Cowper & Telfairs and Rae & Somerville both sold imported goods, but adopted very different marketing strategies when they placed advertisements in the November 29, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Rae & Somerville inserted a notice that read, in its entirety, “JUST IMPORTED, in the Ship Georgia Packet, from London, and to be sold by RAE and SOMERVILLE, A NEAT ASSORTMENT of EUROPEAN and EAST-INDIA GOODS, suitable for the present and approaching season.” In so doing, they made an appeal to consumer choice, informing customers of the “NEAT ASSORTMENT” now in stock.
Yet the copy for Rae & Somerville’s advertisement merely served as an introduction when adapted for an advertisement published their competitors. Consider how another partnership opened their notice: “COWPER & TELFAIRS HAVE IMPORTED, in the Wolfe, Capt. Henry Kemp, from London, and the Britannia, Capt. John Dennison, from Glasgow, via Charleston, A large and compleat Assortment of well chosen GOODS, Which they will dispose of on reasonable Terms.” Incorporating appeals to price and consumer choice, that could have stood alone as a complete advertisement. Cowper & Telfairs continued, however, with an extensive list of their merchandise, divided in two columns to allow prospective customers to peruse their wares easily. Cowper & Telfairs carried everything from textiles and garments to a “large quantity of tin ware” and an “assortment of earthen ware” to “Neat Italian chairs” and an “assortment of Glasgow saddlery.” They strategically deployed capitals to draw attention to certain goods, including “GLASS WARE,” “CHINA WARE,” “PEWTER,” and “STATIONARY.”
Cowper & Telfairs’s advertisement extended two-thirds of a column, occupying significantly more space than Rae & Somerville’s advertisement printed immediately below it. Rae & Somerville ran a second advertisement on the following page, that one a bit longer but still only a fraction of the length of Cowper & Telfairs’s notice. In that second advertisement, Rae & Somerville listed approximately two dozen items, but did so in a dense paragraph that did not lend itself to skimming as well as Cowper & Telfairs’s neatly organized columns. They concluded their list with “&c. &c. &c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) to indicate that they had many more items in their inventory.
Cowper & Telfairs made a more significant investment in their advertisement, both in terms of the expense incurred for publishing such a lengthy notice and in terms of the strategies they deployed in hopes of gaining a better return on that investment. They did more to entice readers to become customers after encountering their advertisements.