George Packwood: An Exclusive Look at the Razor Strop King
George Packwood's advertisements for his razor strop and paste reflect the culmination of the eighteenth-century growth in capitalism and advertising. George Packwood was a middle-class businessman with a product and a desire to get rich. In 1794 he published his first ad for his razor strop and paste in the London Times (1). Like all good advertisers, he knew that repetition was essential if he wanted to attract public attention. His first target was London coffeehouses and the middle- to upper-class men who frequented them. As his business and his name grew, Packwood expanded his advertising efforts to country newspapers (2). He eventually captured markets in London, Bristol, Bath, Gloucester, and Dublin, just to name a few (3).
EXTEMPORE ON PACKWOOD'S RAZOR-STROPS
Sans doubte--Mr. Packwood, your
Surely magic herself has been
lending her aid,
Your most cordial well-wisher
Published in the Sunday Monitor, April 16, 1795
|Unlike many modern advertisers, Packwood focused on variety. His advertisements, like nearly all eighteenth-century ads, were strictly text-based. Drawings and graphics were not yet a part of the daily newspaper. Packwood, however, along with many others, employed similar tactics to the makers of modern television commercials. He used conversations, skits, jokes, and testimonials in his promotional writing. He even wrote poems and musical jingles that, although lacking the auditory component, were designed to stick in the reader's mind. Packwood's skits especially resembled TV commercials, combining the ignorant person and the enlightened user of Packwood's razor strop. Packwood also played upon current events, such as the fall of wheat prices, to peak the interest of newspaper readers intent upon business news and current events.|
As Packwood's advertising campaign and his business grew, he focused less
on direct information about his product and more on name recognition. Often
the words "Packwood" and "razor strop" appeared only briefly,
giving prominence to the entertainment value of the ad. Like modern advertisers
such as Gap or Coca-Cola, Packwood expected his readers to recognize his product
from only indirect information.
Attracting and maintaining the audience's attention was a major challenge in Packwood's market of late 18th-century England. By this time, advertisements had flooded the newspapers with promises of any number of magical cures and indispensable products. Packwood made a show of his outrageous, original, and ever-changing attempts to capture public attention. He believed that his advertisements had entertainment as well as commercial value, and to illustrate this he published a compilation of his ads. Entitled Packwood's Whim: The Goldfinch's Nest; or the Way to Get Money and Be Happy, this booklet was a shameless attempt to glorify Packwood, both for his razor strops and his advertising prowess (5). He drew upon a new tactic in his title, incorporating his packaging into the public conscious. He packaged his spherical, yellow balls of paste in circular boxes that resembled, upon Packwood's suggestion, the nest of a goldfinch (6).
dispute of a very serious nature was near upon taking place a few days
ago, between a gentleman and a tradesman, I here give it verbatim question
and answer, as it was:
GENT. Sir, I purchased an article some time ago, of your recommending; I find it does not answer my expectation, and I demand satisfaction.
TRAD. You shall have every satisfaction you require; but pray what article could that be, bought in my shop, as my goods are all warranted.
GENT. It is nothing less than one of Packwood's new-invented Razor Strops, to remove notches, here it is, look at it.
TRAD. Did you read the directions on the outside of the Strop?
TRAD. Did you ever find it useful?
GENT. I cannot deny, at first, but it answered my most sanguine expectations; indeed, I found my face smoother in the evening than with the use of other Strops, directly after shaving in the morning, but of late the Strop has fallen off very much.
TRAD. (Thus addressed him) So shall you and I fall off, if after breakfast we are not supplied with a dinner, and after that something on the next day; and this Strop is lost for want of a supply of Paste: Pray how long have you had it?
GENT. About three or four months.
TRAD. I see this strop has attracted so much of the steel by application, as to prevent its use; and you confess you have neglected to read the red directions on the Strop, which runs thus, to spread on the paste, about once in two or three months, or oftener, if required. This keeps the Strop always in good order, and as good as new.
The consequence was, the gentleman bought a box of Paste, and the affair was happily adjusted, only he called again in a more calm manner to acknowledge his error, in not reading the label on the Strop, and left this advice for the future, never to sell a Strop without strongly recommending a box of Razor Paste with it, as one without the other, is like a flint without the steel (7).
By 1796, when Packwood published his compilation, it was becoming nearly impossible to avoid Packwood's name in the English marketplace. Gaining confidence in his money-making abilities, Packwood even went so far as to deliberately harass his audience in the name of increased sales. Most notably, he advertised that "An half crown" could be found in the middle of his book. The reader, of course, found not money but a story entitled "An Half Crown." Packwood, who charged a shilling from each booklet, profited significantly from the scam (8). The great advertiser, of course, couldn't let his booklet go unnoticed. After the release of Packwood's Whim, the self-promoting author released an advertisement for his book of advertisements (9).
|George Packwood, like all good businessmen, pushed his name and product relentlessly into the public sphere. His persistence and his ability to produce varied and creative ads proved extremely profitable in the increasingly capitalist society of 18th-century England. For Packwood and middle-class men like him, newspaper advertising offered an opportunity to expand their consumer base and to take advantage of the new||
A NEW SONG CALLED THE RAZOR STROP
In this age of invention, improvement, and taste, sir,
Published in the Telegraph, May 26, 1795