What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“GOODS … as cheap for Cash as at any Shop in Boston.”
Samuel Flagg, a shopkeeper in Salem, complained about “so many flashy Advertisements” that ran in the Essex Gazette in his own notice in that newspaper and others published in New England as 1772 came to an end. In contrast, the advertisement that Caruth and Nash, who kept shop “at Mr. Abbot’s Tavern, on Kingston Plains,” was not flashy at all. In the first issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette for 1773, the partners published an advertisement to inform prospective customers that the “JUST IMPORTED, AND … SOLD … A Large and general Assortment of Scotch and English GOODS.” The way that their name appeared as a headline in all capital letters was the most flashy aspect of Caruth and Nash’s notice.
Yet Flagg had not commented on typography and graphic design alone. He was even more dismissive of the “Story” that merchants and shopkeepers told consumers in their attempts to incite demand and generate revenue. Caruth and Nash did not tell a story anywhere near as elaborate as those that Flagg found so absurd and cloying, but that did not mean that their notice lacked any of the marketing strategies in use at the time. The partners were more reserved in how they presented those appeals to the public.
For instance, they did not go into great detail about their low prices or, especially, what kinds of relationships they cultivated with manufacturers and merchants in England that allowed them to offer great bargains to their customers. They did, however, pledge that they sold their wares “Wholesale and Retail, as cheap for Cash as at any Shop in Boston.” Their prices, they assured prospective customers in rural New Hampshire, were competitive with those in the largest urban center in New England. Caruth and Nash also adopted another strategy that annoyed Flaff, commenting on their customer service. “Those who are pleased to favour them with their Custom,” the partners advised, “may depend on the best Usage, and the smallest Favour gratefully acknowledged.” Flagg was not impressed with merchants and shopkeepers who insincerely professed that they “held [themselves] obliged to the good People” for merely looking at their merchandise “without buying.” Caruth and Nash, on the other hand, incorporated a brief version of that appeal into their newspaper advertisement.
Caruth and Nash’s advertisement was not flashy by the standards of the period, but that did not mean that it lacked marketing appeals intended to sway prospective customers. They hardly published a mere announcement in the New-Hampshire Gazette. Instead, their notice included appeals to price and customer service that they believed would help convince readers to purchase from them rather than their competitors.