Free offers can generate big results

John Foust

Jul 2, 2021

“Free” is one of the most powerful words in advertising.

Generally speaking, there are two types of advertising. Image advertising, which is often referred to as institutional advertising, is designed to create a positive overall impression. Response advertising’s objective is to generate immediate results.

Let’s take a few moments to examine a category of response advertising — the free offer. “Free” is one of the most powerful words in advertising. Here are some idea starters:

1. Free sample. This usually applies to a small portion of a particular product. Imagine an ice cream shop that offers customers a free taste of a seasonal flavor. Or a new bakery that runs a coupon for a complimentary doughnut.

2. Free trial. This is not a money-back guarantee. It’s a way for consumers to take temporary ownership of a product without an upfront cost. Premium cable television channels often use this tactic to introduce viewers to their shows.

3. Extra product free. Think of a restaurant that offers a free dessert with a meal. A variation of this tactic has become so popular that it has its own acronym: BOGO, as in “buy one, get one.” The “get one” could be the same or similar product for no cost or half price.

4. Free gift. This offer goes beyond samples, trials and extra products. Some companies give away products that might be unrelated to what they sell, for example, “Buy a widget and get a $25 gift card from XYZ coffee shop.”

5. Free demonstration. Although most product demonstrations are available at no charge, many businesses don’t like to make that offer. Maybe they think it’s too much trouble.

On the other hand, there’s the powerboat dealer in North Carolina that invites serious prospects to test drive their boats in the lake behind their showroom.

6. Free information. “Write for our free brochure” used to be a common line in ads, but it has been largely replaced by “visit our website.”

There are other ways to provide free information. Think of an investment firm that offers a free book on retirement or other relevant topics.

7. Free service (analysis, consultation, etc.). Real estate agents frequently offer free, no-obligation listing evaluations. Can one of your advertisers provide something similar?

8. Free training. When I was in the tenth grade, I saved up for a long time to buy a used guitar. The store won my business, because: (1) the guitar was a real beauty and (2) they offered three free lessons with the purchase.

9. Free installation. Free assembly or installation can be a big selling point. Several years ago, I was on the verge of buying a chair from an office supply store. But when I learned they had a $25 assembly fee — even for the chair I wanted, which was already assembled — I went somewhere else.

10. Free delivery. Take a hint from online sellers who sometimes provide free shipping. They know the persuasiveness of no-cost delivery. A local brick-and-mortar advertiser can attract attention with a phrase like: “Can’t pick it up? We’ll deliver it to you for free.” © Copyright 2021 by John Foust. All rights reserved.

John Foust has conducted training programs for thousands of newspaper advertising professionals. Many ad departments are using his training videos to save time and get quick results from in-house training. Email for information: