Allow me to write an obituary for what was once an appealing and meaningful word. Sadly, it was beaten to death by advertising claims and shows no hope of recovery. Certainly in the days before the Internet, it had been frequently over used, but recent time has finally sent it over the edge. It no longer means anything. The mere mention of the word leads people to think the opposite, and forces them to check the fine print for the catch.
Free, we will miss you. I wish you still meant something because in these dark times, we need you more than ever. It’s sad how often I need to put you in quotes to signify your empty meaning.
Even in the early days of the Internet, the rise in affiliate marketing led to “free” giveaways of expensive items. The catch there was that you needed to complete a great number of offers, at substantial cost, to receive the so-called free item. The affiliate marketer made more revenue than the cost of the item, and the rube customer received a number of products and services. Certainly not free, but if a person were actually interested in all of the offers they did get the product for free.
The idea of the free trial was another big blow. The idea was for a person to try out a web service for a short time at no cost to them. Of course they had to enter their credit card for the free trial which was mercilessly charged if the service was not canceled in time. The “adult” industry made this practice an artform and free was kicked hard yet again.
Credit reporting services brought both of these together to deliver a deadly blow to free. Rather than go to the government’s weakly promoted annualcreditreport.com, where a consumer can truly download a credit report from every agency once every year for no cost; the credit reporting firms promoted their own “free” solutions which require a trial of a credit monitoring solution. No matter what it says in the url, if a consumer doesn’t watch out they will end up with a monthly bill for their zero cost credit report.
Free had a bit of resurgence with peer to peer downloading, but getting something for free that you are supposed to pay for is just as wrong as thinking you are getting something for free and then paying for it. The big difference is the lawsuits that were directed at the biggest users of free downloading. The legal bills made this anything but free.
I’m certain that you have been hurt many more times than I could ever chronicle. I feel for you. Once such a noble word. Now people assume you are part of a deception.
People have tried to revive you by adding 100% in front of your forsaken name, but to no avail. Even the words completely and totally have no effect on you anymore, my poor lost free.
It is time that we move on and agree that you mean nothing now.
So how can we marketers tell people we won’t be charging them? I have to admit I’m a bit lost without you free. Could someone send me a free hug?