Yours Free – My Gift to You!

Did the above headline catch your attention?

I wrote it to demonstrate this issue’s marketing lesson: the word FREE is the most powerful word in direct marketing.

Always has been. Still is today. Will still be 10 years from now, in my opinion.

“I saw someone use FREE effectively on eBay recently,” copywriter Charlie Byrne told me in an email the other day. “Rocker Jimmy Buffett is coming to town. His fans love to party, especially with Corona beer—the one you squeeze limes into.”

There are MANY tickets for the concert on sale on eBay. If you look at the listings, you’ll see:

  • Buffett Tickets for sale!
  • Jimmy Buffett – Good seats.
  • Buffett Tix for sale.

 … ad infinitum …

But one clever person wrote:

Buffett Tickets + Free Corona and Limes!!!

If you buy the tickets, he throws in a $10 gift certificate for the local Florida supermarket chain.

Charlie adds: “I noticed his ad got MANY more hits than all the others – another demonstration of the power of a FREE offer.”

In his new book, How to Turn Words Into Money, millionaire entrepreneur and master direct marketer Ted Nicholas devotes quite a bit of space to discussing the power of FREE.

“I’ve never sold anything that didn’t sell better after offering free bonuses and gifts,” says Ted. “Free is the most powerful word in the English language. If you’re not using gifts and bonuses in your marketing operations now, your sales in many cases will go up 2, 3, and 4 times.”

One of my friends worked in a medical ad agency. The clients were large pharmaceutical manufacturers targeting doctors with promotions about new drugs.

The agency used direct mail to invite doctors to free seminars (called symposia) – educational programs about the diseases the drugs treated, designed to get the doctors to prescribe the drug as treatment for the diseases.

The agency split-tested a straightforward invitation vs. a version that offered a free gift – a pocket day planner – as an incentive to attend the event. The wholesale cost of the pocket calendar, including imprint of the client’s logo, was about $1 each.

The invitations offering doctors the free $1 pocket calendar generated 6 times the response from doctors (all of whom back then were making handsome six-figure annual incomes) than the invitation that didn’t offer the free gift.

That’s 6 times the results just because of the offer of a little free gift – something the doctor might very well toss in the trash if it arrived unsolicited in the mail.

I get asked at least once a week the following question: “Bob, hasn’t free lost its power?”

The person asking the question is concerned that, because of overuse and increasing sophistication of readers, FREE is not effective anymore.

My answer is always this: FREE alone is not enough today to make a promotion profitable. In the early days of direct marketing, perhaps it was.

But now there are so many people advertising FREE, that simply saying FREE does not make you stand out. You need something more, like a powerful benefit or unique selling proposition or a masterfully written promotion.

But once you have those things, combine them with a FREE offer. Saying free still, even today, increases response significantly vs. the same copy without stressing a free offer.

Bottom line: FREE still works in advertising. Use FREE for yourself and see!

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »


Click to Rate:
Average: 3.0
Published: October 3, 2011

Guest, Add a Comment
Please Note: Your comments will be seen by all visitors.

You are commenting as a guest. If you’re an AWAI Member, Login to myAWAI for easier commenting, email alerts, and more!

(If you don’t yet have an AWAI Member account, you can create one for free.)


This name will appear next to your comment.


Your email is required but will not be displayed.


Text only. Your comment may be trimmed if it exceeds 500 characters.

Type the Shadowed Word
Too hard to read? See a new image | Listen to the letters


Hint: The letters above appear as shadows and spell a real word. If you have trouble reading it, you can use the links to view a new image or listen to the letters being spoken.

(*all fields required)