Tag Archive for: free

Free is Great Except When We Don’t Want What’s Being Offered

Normally people go nuts for free stuff. It
seems like ads touting “Buy one get one free,” or “25% more for free” cause
shoppers to almost salivate. I bet you’ve been places where things were being
given away for free and you found yourself taking items (pens, card holders,
travel mugs, post it notes, etc.) that ended up in the trashcan within weeks of
getting home. And still, we take the goods because they’re free. After all, you
can’t loose by taking advantage of free…or can you?
Have you ever ordered something on Amazon for
less than $25 then found yourself ordering another book or item just to bump
you over the threshold in order to take advantage of the free shipping? I bet
you have and you probably ended up spending $33-$38 in total. Sure, you
convinced yourself you needed that extra book or CD but in reality you would
not have purchased it were it not for the enticement of the free shipping.
Dan Ariely highlights our obsession with “free”
things in his book Predictably Irrational
in a chapter he calls “The Cost of Zero Cost: Why We Often Pay Too Much When We
Pay Nothing.” He convincingly shows readers sometimes they end up worse off
because of free.
The obsession with free has its limits and
this came to light recently with Apple’s promotion with the Irish rock band U2.
It seemed innocent enough, and generous of Apple and U2, to have the band’s
latest album, Songs of Innocence,
automatically added to the iTunes library of some 500 million people.
Unfortunately for both, many subscribers didn’t appreciate the free album and
voiced their opinion rather loudly on social media. In fact, there was an
article titled Free U2 album: How the most
generous giveaway in music history turned PR disaster
. Ouch!
I think what was missed by Apple and U2 in
their well-intentioned giveaway was this – free isn’t really free if it’s not
freely chosen. While there may have been no purchase cost for the album, people
lost their freedom to choose whether or not they wanted to add it to their
libraries. In other words, forced isn’t free no matter how good the intention.
What should they have done instead? In my
opinion offering the album for free for a limited time would have enticed many
people to take advantage of the giveaway. Think about it; U2 is an iconic band
that’s done a lot of good for people across the globe through charitable work
that could only have come about because of their fans. They could have
positioned the opportunity for the free album as their way of saying thanks. I’m
sure each band member is probably set for life financially so they don’t need
the money and could have really made a splash.
By putting a timeframe on it they would have
engaged the principle scarcity, which would have caused many people to want the album even
more and act quickly. This is important because when things are free and
abundant we usually don’t value them nearly as much as when they are restricted
in some way. Think about air and water. Without air we die within minutes and
without water we won’t survive for very long either. There may not be two
things more necessary for life and yet they are an afterthought for most
people…until they’re in short supply. When that happens we’d pay more for
either than just about anything else in the world because our lives might be at
I don’t think Apple or U2 deserved the intense
backlash they got but let it be a lesson to all of us – no matter how beloved
we, our company, our products/services, may be, never infringe on people’s
freedom to choose. Understanding that and correctly positioning a gift could
make all the difference in how it’s received and how we’re perceived.
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.


The Most Expensive Gift of All – Free

Sometimes the most expensive gift of all is free. That’s right, sometimes a “free” gift cost you far more than it would have if you bought it. That’s part of the reason we’re so familiar with the saying, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Let me illustrate with a story.

In early February I was in Austin, Texas to conduct some sales skill workshops for State Auto associates. The workshops went great and when they concluded I celebrated with a couple of coworkers by going down to Austin’s famous Sixth Street for dinner and to take in the historic sites.
If you’ve not been to Sixth Street it’s akin to South Beach minus the incredible wealth and palm trees you see on display at South Beach. There are restaurants, bars, live music and people galore. If you enjoy people watching it’s hard to imagine a place where you could see more diversity than Sixth Street.

As my two friends and I walked around after dinner, taking in the scenery, I was approached by a panhandler who shoved an old rose toward me and asked, “A rose for the lady?” There was no indication he was selling them and I knew he wanted me to think it was a gift. Nonetheless, I declined his offer because generally I only give flowers to my wife or daughter.

He shifted his attempt to the other man in the group but his response was, “I don’t think that would be appropriate, she’s my boss.” Because it takes three strikes before you’re out he pressed the rose towards the lady who was with us. She’d not seen or heard the original offers so when she turned around she took the rose and thanked him.
Game on because next he asked for money. She politely declined but he p
ersisted for a bit as we walked away and then he left after several more refusals. A few moments later he was behind us again and this time it looked like there might be one or two others with him. We were on a busy street with lots of other people but nonetheless it was uncomfortable and immediately she gave the rose back saying, “Here, you can have it back.” They stayed near us for a short time then soon enough they were gone.
So what happened? The panhandler knew exactly what he was doing. He might not be familiar with the term “reciprocity” but he knew how the psychology behind it worked and that’s how he eked out a small living.

Reciprocity dictates that people “return the favor” so to speak. If I do something for you then you probably feel like you owe me something in return if you’re like most people. In the same way charities engage reciprocity by giving you mailing labels with the hope that you’ll give a financial gift in return, the panhandler was giving to get. The big difference between the charity and panhandler is it’s easier to say “No thanks” to an anonymous mailer than it is to a person, especially when they’re staring you in the eye. And even though it’s easier to say “no” to the mailing labels, donations typically double when charitable organization use them!

That point is worth exploring some. Most people have difficulty saying “No” when someone is literally handing them something. To avoid that feeling many people go to great lengths to avoid something as seemingly insignificant as making eye contact. Once eye contact is made whether with a beggar, a street vendor or someone at a mall kiosk, that person will descend like a vulture on a fresh carcass!
So what should you do? First, avoid eye contact with someone because that might stop the other person from approaching to begin with. If something is placed in your hand or forced upon you simply ask, “Is this a free gift?” If they say it is then you can feel free taking it without obligation. If they do anything more say, “You told me this was free. If I thought I had to pay for it I would not have bought it,” and keep going. Of course, your other option is to do what our friend did and just hand it back.
I’m willing to bet that most free offers that come our way during the day are just that; offers to help with no strings attached. Return the favor in some way down the road when the time is appropriate and you might have the start of a great working relationship. But outside the realm of friends and coworkers you might do well to heed the old saying that warns us, “Beware the man bearing gifts.”
Brian, CMCT
influencepeopleHelping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.