Is Free a Fake-Out?

image courtesy of Morguefile.com
image courtesy of Morguefile.com

For as long as there have been marketers there has been the ever popular ‘freebie.’ I wouldn’t be surprised if freebies tracked back to caveman days. You know, one caveman fells a dinosaur but it’s way too much for the family to consume, so he hits the caveman mall and offers free samples to unsuspecting troglodytes out on their once yearly shopping trip, in hopes that he can sell those dino-meats before they go bad. (No refrigeration, right?)

While nobody is offering dino-meat these days, the concept still applies; offer a sample to get potential public interested in buying the thing they are sampling. Really it’s not a bad idea and from a marketing standpoint it can accomplish many things:

  • Introduce products to new consumers
  • Create word of mouth
  • Raise the public awareness of the seller and product
  • Forward a benevolent image of the company to the public
  • Entice potential buyers to buy another product

And then there was a thing called S.W.A.G.

A natural evolution of this free sample concept was SWAG (stuff we all get). This existed primarily within the entertainment biz, SWAG was probably always around to some degree but I believe got very popular around the 80s and has been more and more prevalent since.

If you’re a show biz addict and follow Hollywood gossip blogs, shows, and other outlets that give you the 411 on all things show biz then you know that presenters at awards shows, attendees of film festivals and other glitzy events get gift baskets composed of various goodies from a wide array of companies. Some of these ‘gift baskets’ are valued in the tens of thousands or more. They could contain, designer scents, designer bags, scarves, phones and other electronic gadgets, jewelry and so forth. Not too shabby huh? Naturally the purpose of these types of SWAG baskets go beyond wanting someone to sample the goods, they are meant to persuade the receiver to consider endorsing said products. Nothing like an endorsement from a popular celebrity to send sales soaring, right?

But as the Internet became more and more popular the concept of these freebie giveaways on steroids became known on a much wider scale (just like anything else). And ordinary, everyday people like you and me started wanted our swag too. In fact, generally speaking, the Internet has produced lots of SWAG itself whether legally or illegally. If somebody wants something free, there is likely a way to get it via the Internet. At least it appears to be free.

Is Free Really Free?

I think in part due to rampant piracy and public craving many companies, especially entertainment companies, gave in to the free concept. Better to give it away than have it stolen, right? Hoping that if they gave something away for free that it would encourage the public to eventually buy something. Not sure how that has turned out for them but you know…

And then about five or so years ago free became the new buzzword in Internet marketing. Every Internet marketing guru was screaming free at every turn and people believed them. No matter what their product, businesses large and small started giving away free stuff. Left and right, back and forth, up and down. Every other email had the word free in it and people bit. Big time. Because everybody likes free stuff, right?

Except there was a little catch because you couldn’t just go get the free thing. Oh no, you had to give them your email address, or sign up for their newsletter, or otherwise surrender some personal information in order to get the free thing. So that the marketer could email you forever and hawk their goods constantly, like five times a week, or even five times a day. And often getting off that list took an act of God. So was it worth it? Whatever little freebie you got, for all that spam and constant hawking? Was it really free?

How Free Back-Fired

Somewhere in this evolution small businesses, including single practitioners and creatives, started to believe they had to give their work away in order to get people to buy it. Think about that. You have to give your work away in order to get someone to buy it – does that make sense? I mean if you’re going to give you work away on the one hand and then ask that same person to pay you, what do you suppose is going to be the response? My guess is that that person will just shrug and move on to the next freebie giver.

Sure, you’ve got them on your email list but if they are only interested because you gave them something free, then of what value is that email address? Not much, right?

Unfortunately, now that free is a thing – everybody expects something for nothing. From healthcare to lipstick, half the people walking around this country have the attitude that they should get stuff for free – just because. It has nothing to do with deserving it, earning it or otherwise being entitled to it. In those minds the very fact that they live and breathe is reason enough to get it.

How Much is Free Really Worth?

I don’t know about you but in my case, 99% of anything I’ve ever gotten for free has been worth the same amount as the price tag. There is the rare eBook, or other item that has been valuable to me and I have gone back to that seller and bought things. But by and large my forays into the free universe have resulted mostly in overstuffed inboxes, unwanted emails, and just general annoyance. So I’ve turned over a new leaf. I no longer seek the free. I simply seek the things I need and want and yeah, I’m willing to pay for them. If I’m not willing to pay for them then I pass. I’ve been unsubscribing a lot too, which has been great for handling emails and saving me time. And I really think now before I click that button that is big, red and says FREE. Because I’ve realized that if something is worth having then it’s worth paying the person who has spent the time creating it, marketing it and so forth. Things don’t just spontaneously appear in the world. Somebody had to make it. They had to think it up, and take the steps necessary to bring it into being, and believe me that took time, energy, resources, and a helluva lot of work. Don’t they deserve to be paid for their trouble?

So what do you think about free stuff? Good, bad, somewhere in between?

Writer Chick
Copyright 2015

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3 thoughts on “Is Free a Fake-Out?

  1. For the most part I think there’s no such thing as free. Somebody always has to pay. As for the spam, after 10-15 years with the same email address, I was drowning in it and finally got a new account (of which I’m very protective). Now whenever I have to give an email address for anything online, I use the old address and if necessary, a fake name, fake phone number, and fake street address.

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