What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“M’QUEEN continues as usual, to make all Sorts of Stays for Ladies, in the newest Fashions, worn in London.”
How effective were the advertisements for consumer goods and services that appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers? This is a difficult question to answer, especially from the perspective of consumers. From the perspective of the advertisers, however, their persistence in running newspaper advertisements suggests that they believed those advertisements effectively generated more business than if they had instead chosen not to advertise. This speaks to attitudes about advertising in eighteenth-century America.
John McQueen sold made and sold stays (or corsets) in New York in the 1760s. He repeatedly placed advertisements in the local newspapers (including advertisements in March 1766 and February 1767), an indication that he considered them effective for stimulating demand among prospective customers. At the very least, he saw advertising as a necessity for informing readers of the various kinds of stays he stocked. Neglecting to advertise might have resulted in surrendering his share of the market to competitors. Such an interpretation implies that McQueen merely attempted to direct existing demand to his establishment. The contents of the advertisements, however, suggest that he considered advertising more powerful than that. After all, he did not merely announce that he sold stays; the staymaker also formulated appeals to fashion that he expected would resonate with potential customers.
For instance, McQueen underscored that he sold “all Sorts of Stays for Ladies, in the newest Fashions, worn in London.” This echoed appeals that he made in previous advertisements: “all sort of Stays for Ladies in the newest Fashions that is wore in London” and “all Sorts of Stays, in the newest Fashion that is wore by the Ladies of Great-Britain or France.” In addition to invoking current tastes, McQueen linked his stays to European fashions, especially those in the metropolitan center of the empire. New York was a relatively small city compared to London, but “Ladies” who purchased McQueen’s stays could trust that they were not less cosmopolitan than their counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic. McQueen reinforced this appeal when he also applied it “neat polished Steel back Shapes, and Collars, much used in London.” He continued by asserting that these items were “necessary for young Ladies, at Boarding and Dancing Schools.” He bound fashion and gentility together, seeking to convince prospective customers that they needed the stays he made and sold, especially if they intended to comport themselves appropriately at certain venues where the better sorts gathered.
McQueen considered these appeals effective enough that he consistently incorporated them into newspaper advertisements over the course of several years. He did more than announce that he made and sold stays. He offered reasons why readers should purchase his wares, attempting to stimulate demand. Had he not believed that this would yield a return on his investment then he likely would have scaled back or discontinued his advertisements rather than continue to pay for notices that had no effect on consumers.