“Free? What’s the catch?”

Posted on 29 June 2012 by Nick Swift in i2i NEWS, OPINIONS, STAFFING. 0 comments


Walking round an Olympic Torch relay site recently, watching our staff sampling for one of our clients, I was struck repeatedly by the suspicion of consumers.  It’s something that often hits me when a campaign is live, but here it seemed magnified: in the beautiful sun, a great vibe among the 20,000 strong crowd , brands giving stuff away left, right and centre – and still a significant number of people we approached pulled themselves up, blinked and said “How much is it?”  (This wasn’t just once by the way – it happened frequently throughout the course of the afternoon.)

Brands often don’t like to emblazon themselves with the word “Free” – I’m sure they feel it has a cheapening effect.  It is incredible though how much you can line everything else up without explicitly stating the “f” word and people still feel there’s a catch.  You could get cynical about this – one of your brand ambassadors could wear a hat with the word “FREE!!” attached to it in giant, flashing neon letters and a punter would still place a nervous, protecting hand over their wallet.

However, the flip side here is that when people did accept their sample, I saw smiles, gratitude and extended, natural conversations between consumers and our brand team.  Barriers get broken down through a free sample – and the point here of course is targeting.  In this particular instance, the brand was capitalising on an Olympic sponsorship and becoming part of a memorable day for the people who had turned up for the event.  In the same way, any intelligent sampling campaign will identify where and when their prospective consumers will be most tuned in to communicate with a brand.  A scattergun approach may get numbers out but may not convert to sale – a targeted sampling campaign can generate paying consumers.  Recent research has shown that intent to purchase rises 91% after direct experience with a brand via sampling.

Growth of other marketing disciplines doesn’t diminish the usefulness of “traditional” sampling, and where appropriate, we look to creatively transform sampling from a brand “gift” to a brand “experience”.  In an increasingly digital world, this means marrying a live experience with an online one.  But that doesn’t mean that direct contact, and “face-to-face” time is any less important.  You need a human being to steer a conversation – particularly when faced with the perennial question “what’s the catch?” 


What do you think?




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