‘FREE!’ Is Indeed a Magic Word
The Power of FREE!
For over a century marketers have glommed onto the word FREE:
• In the late 1880s, Coca-Cola issued coupons good for one FREE Coke at you local soda fountain.
• The classic subscriber acquisition mailing for magazines: "Take the current issue FREE!"
• Visit FreeShipping.org and you will be connected to 4,000 online retailers that sweeten the shopping deal by eating all packing and shipping charges.
• Men's clothier Jos. A. Bank is all over television like a cheap suit with offers such as "Buy 1 Get 1 FREE!" and "Buy 1 Get 2 FREE!"
• At a time when airlines are loading fees and extras into every facet of their service, Southwest Airlines proclaims "BAGS FLY FREE!"
• To hype sales, car manufacturers offered free maintenance—oil changes, tire rotations, etc.—until they discovered their bottom lines were being clobbered. So Volvo, Chrysler and Mitsubishi backed off.
• At a time when daily newspapers are struggling to compete with TV news and the Internet, 100 cities in Europe and the Americas are being served by Metro FREE newspapers that reach a daily audience of more than 20 million and siphon advertising away from paid journals.
• And chalk one up to AP reporter Devlin Barrett for this witty lede:
WASHINGTON (AP) - Amtrak is trying to gin up new business by offering $100 in free alcohol to customers on some overnight trains. The national passenger rail company is making the unusual offer to promote a new high-end service being offered on a trial basis for certain sleeper car trips.
When NOT to Offer Something FREE!
What triggered this column was the WSJ Aug. 22, 2012 story, "When Freemium Fails," about the billing management company Chargify LLC that gave free software to merchants who billed fewer than 50 customers a month. For more than 50 customers, the charge was $49 a month.