Since the beginning of professional advertising, the word “free” has held a lofty status as being the fail-safe word to use in an ad to gain immediate attention. Today’s consumer may have evolved beyond that positive reaction. Have you?

When you see or hear the word “free” in a commercial, does it peak your curiosity or trigger your cynical side that tells you there must be a catch? Of course, it depends on the offer, but most people surely fall in one of two initial reaction categories: “Tell me more.” or “Yeah, right.”

Suzuki Motor Corp. built a very small car in the mid 1990’s called the X-90. It became such an albatross for the dealerships selling it (we handled one) that we actually ran ads offering “Buy one get one for FREE.” Do you think it was successful? A free car? Well, it failed miserably. People believed it was too good to be true.

On a smaller scale, surely the buy one and get one free ploy must be working for fast food restaurants. They’re not only sticking with them, chains like McDonald’s are using exclusive BOGO offers via their app to drive sales and app downloads. Groupon specialized in similar offers before it fell from grace.

Consumers are much more savvy these days and the Internet accelerates their learning curve considerably, in real-time. These days my recommendation is not to market your product or service with lures, but rather with sincere appeals to the needs and desires of your potential customer. 

That’s free advice, of course.