What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“If any on Trial should not answer the Purpose intended, he engages to take them back, and to supply the Parties with others.”
In the summer of 1773, Isaac Melcher sold a “compleat and warranted Assortment of BOULTING-CLOTHS, Suitable to every Branch of that Business” to millers in and near Philadelphia. In an advertisement in the June 9 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, he announced that he had “lately imported” those items and sold them “on the lowest Terms for Cash.” In an effort to generate demand, Melcher pledged that “Considerable Allowance will be made to those that take a Quantity.” In other words, he offered discounts for purchasing in volume.
Melcher deployed another marketing strategy to entice prospective customers, offering to replace the “warranted” bolting cloths with other items if buyers tried them and were not satisfied. “If any on Trial should not answer the Purpose intended,” Melcher pledged, “he engages to take them back, and to supply the Parties with others in their Room.” The option of exchanging merchandise, however, came with a condition. Buyers had to return bolting cloths that did not meet their needs “without Damage” to qualify for that provision.
At a glance, Melcher’s advertisement may not appear very flashy to modern eyes. Like almost every other advertisement that appeared in that issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette, it consisted entirely of text without any images. (One advertisement seeking freight and passengers included a stock image of a ship at sea.) Yet Melcher did not merely announce that he had bolting cloths for sale and then hope that prospective customers would do business with him. Instead, he incorporated two marketing strategies intended to motivate millers not only to purchase bolting cloths but to acquire them from him rather than any of his competitors. He promised discounts for large orders while also allowing for exchanges after customers tried his bolting cloths. That attention to customer satisfaction made purchases more than perfunctory transactions. While not as sophisticated as modern marketing practices, advertisements like those placed by Melcher should not be dismissed as mere announcements of goods for sale. After all, Melcher devised strategies to engage prospective customers.