‘FREE’ is one of the most powerful words in marketing. And smart brands know just how to use it.

A couple of days ago, I saw something interesting while I was out with my family. Next to the movie hall was a booth set up by Nivea offering free samples of their skincare creme. Many people were trying to get their hands on the free stuff!

But this was not a typical raise your hand to get something for free. In order to get the free sample of the creme, one needed to scan a QR code, enter the phone numbers and email IDs, and submit the OTP they were to receive. 

To sum it up, it was data mining activity (a smart one indeed) from the brand’s side.

How would you feel if, instead of reading ‘Nivea Free Samples,’ the sign said ‘Trade Your Personal Details in Exchange of Skincare Creme worth Rs 30‘? Would you still have given them your contact information?

Whether it is a simple sample or access to premium digital content, there is no denying the allure of ‘FREE’ – is more powerful than any rational economic analysis would suggest. This brings us to the question – does the word ‘free’ have that much power? What is the reason for this?

The answer lies in our psychology: the persuasive power of ‘FREE’ is primarily due to cognitive dissonance. For an undecided customer, ‘FREE’ tackles the risk associated with a bad decision. For an onlooker, getting something for ‘FREE’ is a gain. And most often, it also plays on our tendencies to be impulsive and the prevalence of FOMO (fear of missing out).  

In other words, a free offer reduces resistance. 

And that’s why smart brands use ‘FREE’ to their advantage, as we are all hardwired to love it. 

So, whether it’s a yogurt brand launching new flavors with ‘FREE’ coupons or a clothing store offering free shipping over a certain amount, smart brands can harness the persuasive power of ‘FREE’ to get ahead in the marketing game. In fact, some businesses have even built their digital strategies around the concept of ‘FREE’ for this very reason. 

There is no denying the persuasive power of ‘FREE.’ But the real challenge for marketers lies in using it effectively WITHOUT being creepy or invasive. After all, nobody likes to be boxed into a marketing strategy. The methods of offering ‘FREE’ must be transparent and in line with consumer privacy norms. What do you think? 

Amit Tilekar
Amit Tilekar

Customer-obsessed digital marketer and growth marketing consultant

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