Tag Archive for: U2

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”.