Sunday, July 13, 2008

Free kisses and cheap truffles

For those newspaper advertising and business readers who stop by here – and for all the rest of us, who depend on them – here's an intriguing lesson about the power of "free."

From a site with the intimidating name "Neuromarketing" comes this summary of recent scientific research about how powerful the concept of "free" is when it comes to making decisions. Some argue that "the preference for free" seems hard-wired into our brains. In one experiment, most subjects chose a free Hershey's Kiss over a premium European chocolate truffle priced at 14 cents ...

I know editors who have been begging for a free classified product to help sustain readership at their papers. We've agreed at our I-20 meetings in Sacramento that free classifieds are clearly worht trying, but few folks have made much of an effort yet that I know of.

Am I wrong? I'd love to hear more. In the meantime, have a look at this research, and think about what it could mean in all areas of our marketing efforts.


  1. Anonymous12:46 PM

    What I think you are missing here is that technology has radically changed your market, so whether or not you give away classified won't make much of a difference. It's not just the Belgian truffle versus the Hershey kiss, but the Belgian truffle topped with Devonshire cream and served with cherries jubilee for 14 cents, versus the free Hershey kiss.
    For example, look at real estate ads. Printed newspapers can only offer a one-dimensional picture of the house and limited printed information. But Internet real estate sites offer tours, both with static pix and with a roving camera.
    I think newspapers could get back readers for the real estate market by offering more consumer information than available on Internet real estate sites -- for example, price paid for the property and when, latest property value stated in local tax assessments (to find out how overpriced the house might be), ratings of the local school, instances of crime on the surrounding streets. It would require a little investment to get that information, but newspapers are great at getting information. And it is right up the alley of old-fashioned consumer reporting.
    But I can see realtors would rebel and wouldn't pay for the ads if newspapers did that, because they don't want that sort of information released.
    If the idea behind this post is to deal with the Craigslist issue, then I think the only solution is to provide more information than Craigslist can possibly provide. Craig doesn't have access to local market information, comparative prices, local sales, etc. Load down the Belgian truffle with so many goodies it becomes impossible to refuse paying 14 cents for it, even when a Hershey kiss is offered free.

  2. Anonymous2:09 PM

    Here is one Washington, D.C. realtor providing some of the information on a beta site he set up. It's a little clunky to use and you have to hit the radio buttons on top to see pictures of the properties, but it provides more information. It is only for the Washington area: and also provide purchase price and comparative data. There is no reason newspaper sites could not give this information, like does. Speaking of, why not provide the VIN numbers so people can search insurance sites to see its not been written off after an accident or Katrina-like flood?

  3. Anonymous5:24 PM

    Newspapers used to run contests and give prizes. I believe in the power of free -- but I think it works for things that feel like prizes or the ubiquitous "free gifts" that cosmetic companies offer to get people to buy makeup. (They work.) In other words, you're not giving away what you sell.

    No competitor is giving away free print classifieds in publications that reach 60 to 70 percent of their markets, as our newspapers do. I think the message of doing so would be: we can't sell these, we're desperate, etc. But I'm interested in the idea of creating an element of attraction for our pages as community marketplace -- one where you find the things you weren't really searching for. Alt papers used to pull out odd or interesting classifieds for reader value. Some papers are redoing their classifieds sections with fun content like comics or so forth. There's probably a kind of ad that could be a "free gift item" -- a good wishes ad? A Valentine's ad? That could do for us what the makeup tote did for Clinique -- create traffic.

  4. @anonymous1246: Great thinking. The key, as was pointed out with "clunky" is keeping the user experience friction free.

  5. Anonymous7:36 AM

    but few folks have made much of an effort yet that I know of.

    No, of course they haven't. MNI has created a pen of cows, all content to chew grass and cud but never interested in, maybe pushing against the fence to save their skins.

    Until someone yells "hi-yah!" and slaps one of the cows in the ass, there will be no movement. Not to free classifieds, not online, not anywhere. 'Cept maybe to the meat grinder.

  6. Anonymous8:41 AM

    Meanwhile, we're more than happy to charge for traditional news offerings like obituaries and community announcements.

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