Does free mean free?

People are getting very strict in how they define "free."

Patrick Hurley writes,

"Hi Seth:

So I took my two kids to the Oakland Museum today to check out the Disney exhibit.  Very informative.  Everyone liked it. 

We even got to have our picture taken in one the sailing ships from the Peter Pan ride courtesy of USA Today.  Nice touch I thought.  We were told that it would be waiting for us in my email box when we returned home.

Sure enough, there was a link (albeit in my junk folder).  I clicked on it and ……………….. was taken to a survey.  Sorry kids.  Instant gratification delayed.

Okay, I thought, I’m a marketer.  I can kind of understand and accept this, even though it absurdly "required" that I provide my income level and gave no option to decline.  I completed the survey and……… was taken to a page notifying me that I’d have to pay a $1 "administrative fee" to the photo fulfillment company, Foto Fetch.  That would have been a deal breaker but my kids really wanted the photo.  I tracked down my wallet for my credit card, typed in all my personal data and got the photo.

My good feelings toward USA Today after this experience — gone.  Wiped clean.  The quid pro quo that I expected — me receiving a photo from the good folks at USA Today in exchange for possibly having some branding on the photo frame or receiving a special subscription offer — was instead a complete rouse. The file folder in my brain titled "USA Today" now has a sticky note on it with a sad face."  [end of story…]

On a similar note, Gil got his "free" cell phone in the mail today. He knows it’s not really free, he had to sign up for a two year contract. BUT, also, just to make a few bucks, the box is stuffed with come-ons, offers and other subterfuge. Is it really worth the few cents they earn back?

Exactly how many times are you going to get tricked by a "free iPod" site?

Even when I was seven this irked me. "Mom," I’d say, "We really don’t get 33% more toothpaste free… we have to buy the toothpaste in order to get it."

And finally, today I got an email from a ten-year-old girl who had read Free Prize Inside. She was complaining because there really wasn’t a free prize inside the box.

The best free stuff is really and truly free. All you get in return is loyalty, consumer satisfaction and word of mouth.