19 April 2008

Beware of FREE!

Here's a quick warning about that favorite word in marketing: FREE!

Sure, we all know the saying - "There's no such thing as a free lunch." Yet, simply paying for shipping and handling on a high priced item that you won in a contest, like a laptop, is definitely close enough to count as "free." But what about offers that aren't as free as the promoter would have you believe?

Let's use the lunch metaphor. Say you read copy that says something along the lines of "Have a Free Lunch on Us!" Like most of us, thanks to the cliche, you are understandably skeptical of such an offer. What the heck, you think; your interest is piqued so you click on the link to find out the details. That's when you see it...

A page opens with lengthy copy that says that in accepting these "free" meal vouchers, you are expected to not only write a review of a set word count but you must also have the review written by a specified deadline. On top of that, you must sign off and agree to re-pay the dollar amount of the food voucher you receive if you do not meet the deadline. How is this a free lunch?

On top of the obvious, that this is not a "free" lunch but a form of contractual barter, the amount of the food vouchers will barely cover the cost of the meal, if that. Also, tips and alcohol beverages are not included, so you end up covering those costs out of your own pocket and essentially end up paying to write your restaurant review.

Does such an arrangement border on false advertising? Or is this acceptable practice?

I don't think it's okay at all. It's deceptive and probably deserves some attention from the Better Business Bureau. If it's not free, call it by its true name, whatever that might be.

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