What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“His Store is the cheapest after all is said and done, &c. &c. &c. &c.”
Thomas Walley stocked a variety of items at his “GROCERY STORE” on Dock Square in Boston in the spring of 1773. In an advertisement in the May 6 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, he listed many of those items, from “New Rice” to “BOHEA TEA” to “Flour Mustard” to “Brown Sugars of all Qualities.”
Walley concluded his advertisement with a lively nota bene that commented on the marketing strategies deployed in the city’s newspapers by various purveyors of goods. He stated that he “could engage, as others do in their late Advertisements, to sell cheaper than cheap, and lower than any Body else, or that his Store is the cheapest after all is said and done, &c. &c. &c. &c.” The string of “&c.” (which modern readers would recognize as “etc. etc. etc. etc.”) communicated his exasperation with advertisers who went on and on about the bargains that they made available to their customers. More bluntly, he declared that if he did the same that it would have “as little meaning,” something that he suspected both advertisers and savvy consumers realized. Instead of making bold claims about his prices to dazzle prospective customers, Walley considered simplicity and honesty the better means of cultivating relationships of trust. He “rather chuses to inform his good Customers and others that he will sell at such Prices, as that both the Seller and the Buyer may make a Profit.” In other words, both parties got a good deal.
Walley’s approach echoed the one taken by Samuel Flagg when he advertised imported goods available at his store in Salem several months earlier. Flagg proclaimed that he did not “mean to make such a Parade, not furnish the Publick with so many pompous Promises (as have lately been exhibited) of Goods being so amazingly cheap, but would rather convince them of the Cheapness of his Goods and of his Integrity in dealing, whenever they may please to call and favour him with their Custom.” When it came to engaging prospective customers with his advertisements, he did not wish to “tell them a Story” like in “so many flashy Advertisements as weekly present themselves.” Flagg asserted that such stories had no “true Meaning” … and readers knew that as well as he did.
Both Walley and Flagg saw critiquing advertising as the most effect means of marketing their wares. They flattered readers by suggesting that they all knew that other advertisers inflated their claim yet Walley and Flagg would not insult the intelligence of their prospective customers. Instead, they opted for honesty and integrity in presenting prices that worked to the advantage of both the shopkeepers and consumers.