I was walking through our local shopping center and noticed something out of the ordinary seemed to be going on at the Ben & Jerry's store.
Instead of the usual handful of customers inside, a long line of customers of all ages snaked out the door for about 30 yards! What the heck was going on? I asked a woman what the long line was all about, and she answered, "free ice cream."
Sure enough, on the store's window, a big sign announced "Free Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Cones Between 1-4 pm."
Here's what instantly struck me about the scene ...
The shopping center is in an affluent area. There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that any of the people in line could have easily afforded an ice cream cone. After all, we're talking about small change. Yet, here were men, women and teenagers lining up to get something they could easily afford, merely because it was free. They simply couldn't resist the offer. (And the ice cream.)
As a direct response copywriter, I have long known that "FREE" was one of those magic words that can boost response. I routinely encourage clients who want to generate leads to make a "free offer," and I use the word in my copywriting work just about every day.
Yet here, right in front of my eyes, was living proof of the awesome power of the free offer. Why would people pass by Ben & Jerry's on a Wednesday, when they could easily pay for a cone, but line up for thirty minutes in the hot California sun for a free cone on a Thursday?
The answer is hard to come by. Were those people waiting in line all involved in some kind of mass regressive return to the maternal breast, where they could be fed, symbolically by an indulgent, loving mother? Or were they just a bunch of cheap skates? Hey, I don't have a clue. But I DO know what I saw, and what I saw says that "FREE" still has the ability to get people moving. Or standing in line.
The takeaway message this month? When you're creating an offer for lead generation, don't reject the power of offering somebody something for nothing.
"Free" is one four-letter word you can use ANY time!
Ivan Levison is a freelance direct response copywriter who works for companies like Bank of America, Fireman's Fund, Intel and Microsoft. Levison writes direct mail, emails and Web copy. For a free subscription to his monthly email newsletter for marketers, and a free copy of his report, "101 Ways to Double Your Response Rates!", visit www.levison.com.