What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Any Clock or Watch, sent to said Griffith, will be speedily refitted.”
Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith, a “CLOCK and WATCH MAKER” from the colonies, and John Simnet, a “LONDON WATCH MAKER” who had migrated to Portsmouth nearly a year earlier, both placed advertisements in the October 27, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Neither advertisement ran for the first time; both appeared sporadically over the course of several weeks that fall. The rival watchmakers each attempted to keep their name visible to the general public and, especially, prospective customers.
The series of notices that Griffith and Simnet inserted in the New-Hampshire Gazette tell a fairly unique story about advertising in early America. Most advertisers sought to attract customers to maintain or even increase their own share of a crowded market. Most advertisers, however, did not deploy advertising as a means of depriving specific rivals of their own ability to participate in the marketplace. On the other hand, Griffith and Simnet almost certainly saw advertising as a zero sum game; any benefit that accrued to one necessarily occurred to the detriment of the other.
Regular readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette watched their feud unfold over the course of many months. Even though the watchmakers did not mention each other by name, their advertisements often included very pointed references that made clear their disdain for the competition. Their advertisements sometimes took a remarkably adversarial tone as Griffith and Simnet each critiqued and denigrated both the skill and the character of their rival. Even though neither advertisement in the October 27 edition leveled any accusations against the other watchmaker, readers likely would have found it impossible to peruse those notices without taking into consideration the usual enmity that motivated the two men.
Modern advertising frequently plays on unspoken rivalries. Commercials for fast food franchises and brands of soda, for instance, often rely on consumers taking into account the competition, even without making any direct reference to that competition. Griffith and Simnet developed a similar strategy in the eighteenth century. Promoting their own businesses included efforts to reduce the market share of their rival, sometimes launched explicitly but other times implicitly incorporated into their marketing.