Those words seem to pluck at the heartstrings of web surfers everywhere. Ok, so maybe that’s a little dramatic, but that’s what the advertising companies WANT you to believe. The big flashing banner ads beckon even the smartest people with the promise of something that doesn’t exist… the elusive Something For Nothing.
Yesterday, while puttering a bit on the computer, Mark spotted an ad. Wanted: Males over 40, to participate in a study… all you have to do is play XBox 360. Look, we’ll even give you one! And we’ll just throw in a fabulous free copy of Halo 3. Just click right here and we’ll tell you how! Not being one to fall for gimmicky things, Mark has never bought into such advertisements before, but he had some time to kill. He asked me if it was real. I nodded my head, knowing the hoops you have to jump through to actually complete such offers, but that they are indeed real.
**Before I go any further, I want to say that my husband is the scary kind of wicked smart. He’s an engineer and has forgotten more about math, computers, networking, security, and a million other things than I’ll ever begin to learn. But effective advertising doesn’t care about your intelligence. It cares about eliciting an emotional response from the target audience.
Mark clicked the link and the first screen was exactly as I expected, all of the Special Offers that come with it. Free newsletters, free memberships to free websites. This is the easy phase. I showed him the trick of scrolling all the way down to the bottom of the page and clicking SKIP. He arched his brow and queried “hmm.. seems like you’ve done this before…” I just smiled.
On to page 2, the Silver Offers! In order to get the FREE stuff, he had to fill out two of the Silver Offers. No biggie. I suggested that he fill out two of the credit card offers, since I know that with the tax liens he wouldn’t get approved. Application one was for a Discover card. Immediate rejection. Things were going right as planned on his path to his free stuff!
Application two was for an HSBC card. He clicked submit a bit triumphantly, thinking that this was a seriously easy way to get a game system. OOPS… what’s that? HE GOT APPROVED. Darn, now what? He’s got his first credit card in 12 years (although it only has a $300 limit.)
On to page 3, now that he’s completed his mandatory two offers, he’s ready to get his game system. But wait… there are GOLD offers. And he has to complete THREE of these. After scrolling through the entire screen of offers, he chooses the most innocuous looking offers.
First, he said yes to the CPAP marketing offer, because he really does need to look into getting a new CPAP machine. Then he saw the ad for free coffee and chocolate. Since we really love grinding our own coffee beans and occasionally ordering gourmet beans online is something we indulge in, he looked at that offer. Except that his Free sample of coffee cost $9.00 for shipping. Scratch that one! On down the page was a 2nd coffee offer… $5 each for 2 bags of coffee, two stainless steel travel mugs, and a set of coffee mugs but the shipping was free. So, the Free Xbox is now up to $25.00.
On to the third offer. Emusic.com was offering 50 free song downloads, with a paid one month membership. Well, he reasoned, that would be 80 downloads for the kids for $11.95. That’s not a bad deal at all. So, the Free XBox is now up to $36.95. This is still not a bad trade-off so Mark clicked submit on the Gold Offers and was ready to receive his prize.
The next screen caused all of the color to drain out of his face. Guess what? There is a PLATINUM level of offers. And you have to complete 4 of them. And none of them are free. Well, that’s not true. Many are free, but all have massive shipping costs. There were no less than 15 Work From Home How To programs, all priced at the LOW LOW price of $39.95. After scrolling through the list of Platinum offers and seeing how the gimmick really works, Mark asked “So, did you KNOW this was how this worked?”
To tell the truth, I did know. He asked me why I allowed him to do such a thing when I knew it was going to be a waste of time and money. I asked if he learned something from it. He nodded his head vigorously and sighed “Yes, I suppose I did.” Personally, I think that $36.95 is a fairly cheap price to pay to learn from a mistake, and I told him so. Most people do not have the ability to learn from the mistakes of others. They have a built in belief that the outcome must be different if it’s them.
There are only two outcomes, that I can see, for this type of advertising… and the advertisers know it! Outcome one: The target audience goes through as many offers as they are comfortable with before giving up on it as a waste of time and money. The ad agency wins out big here, because they’re getting revenue from the already completed offers.
Outcome two: The target audience fills out all of the requirements, spending money they hadn’t anticipated, and filling their inboxes with junk mail to complete the offer and get their FREE prize. The ad agency wins out even bigger here, because they are getting even more revenue from the higher dollar ads.. far more than the cost of that FREE prize they’ll send you in 6 to 8 weeks.
What about you? Have you ever completed one of these FREE offers? What did you get? How much did it really cost?