In studying the phenomena of “Free” we’ve examined numerous perspectives and commentary on the subject matter. In doing so we’ve found a list of “free stuff that’s available to consumers online and offline” created by Free Love, a recent publication of Trend Watching.
The publication states: “FREE thrives on an all-out war for consumers’ ever-scarcer attention and the resulting new business models and marketing techniques, but also benefits from the ever-decreasing costs of producing physical goods, the post-scarcity dynamics of the online world (and the related avalanche of free content created by attention-hungry members of GENERATION C), the many C2C marketplaces enabling consumers to swap instead of spend, and an emerging recycling culture.”
“Expect FREE to become an integral if not essential part of doing business.”
“As indicated in the definition above, the rise of FREE can be attributed to:”
- An all-out war for consumers’ attention (make that saturated consumers), including various handout and sampling techniques.
- The online world, with its amazing capacity to create, copy and distribute anything that’s digital, with costs that are close to zero, forcing producers to come up with new business models/services, which are often purely ad-driven.
- The ever-decreasing cost of physical production makes it easier to offer more (nearly) free goods in the offline world too. In fact, many goods have actually become insanely cheap. Just one example: the price of televisions has fallen, on average, by 9 percent each year since 1998, according to U.S. Dept. of Labor data.
- The avalanche of free content created by attention-hungry members of GENERATION C.
- C2C marketplaces enabling consumers to swap instead of spend, making transactions cash-neutral.
- An emerging recycling culture.
- And all of the above fueling consumers’ expectations to get online and offline stuff for free.
“The most visible (commercial) manifestations of FREE are businesses offering goods, services and experiences to consumers for free and making their money from advertising. As long as attention remains the number one scarce item for B2C brands, the number of ‘FREEVERTISING’ initiatives will continue to grow relentlessly.” An extensive overview of online and offline FREEVERTISING includes:
- Newspapers: NewspaperInnovation.com
- Magazines: ShortList, Free sports weekly Sport ,
- Telecom : Skype,Mosh Mobile , Pumbby, Talkster, Jaxtr, Pudding Media and the list goes on
- Airlines: From low fare to no fare? Forget low cost carriers: keep an eye on Ultra-Low Cost Carriers (ULCCs) handing out free seats by the bucketload. These include:Wizz Air, SkyBus, Spirit and AirAsia. Other ULCCs that give away hundreds of thousands of free seats are Wizz Air, SkyBus, Spirit and AirAsia
- Car rental • As-good-as-free automotive examples: LaudaMotion lets Austrian and German customers rent an ad-plastered Smart car for exactly three days at the cost of just one euro per day
- Food and beverage • Still in concept phase, Japanese vending machine operator Apex is looking into turning some of its beverage machines into a new medium for advertisers, who will pick up the partial or full cost of drinks.
- Photo prints • An interesting idea that’s been put on hold after an apparently too-successful launch: French MesPhotosOffertes offered free picture processing and home delivery in exchange for ads on the bottom of pictures
- Student textbooks • U.S.-based Freeload Press provides free college textbooks in electronic form with advertisements inserted at chapter breaks
- Travel guides • Dutch free postcards pioneer Boomerang Media’s latest addition to its free portfolio is a free (paper) city travel guide. Created in cooperation with travel guide publisher Mo’Media.
- Wifi • With most hotspots still charging prohibitive fees for casual users, ad-sponsored wireless access points could be the next FREE success story: Metrofi has secured agreements with several cities across the U.S. to design, build and operate ad-sponsored, free municipal wifi networks for residents, visitors and city workers. Metrofi is able to provide free access in these communities through online advertising supported by local and national advertisers. WIGO offers free wireless internet to registered users and is available in coffee shops, commercial areas and restaurants in the Manila area. WIGO users will see a ‘WIGOBAR’ on the bottom inch of their screen, displaying banner ads from sponsors. Meanwhile, booting out T-Mobile, AT&T is installing wifi hotspots at over 7,000 Starbucks stores in the US, offering two hours of free wifi a day to Starbucks Card holders. Rollout starts early Q2 and will take until the end of this year to be completed. Next?
- Google’s free wireless plans,* sponsored by, what else, Google AdWords.
- Navigation • GPS marketing solutions company adNav recently announced the release of a new GPS system called the Boomerang: an ad-supported mobile concierge system with built-in GPS navigation that’s currently targeted at hotels, airlines and car rental agencies as an extra amenity for out-of-town visitors.
- Stock photography • Yet another FREE LOVE war in the making: stock images. Getty Images is now competing with free sites like Britepic, everystockphoto and stockvault. .
- Notes and photocopies • FreeHand Advertising distributes free notepaper to students on their way to class. Japanese Tadacopy offers university students free photocopies
- Finance: Free software may be nothing new, but sophisticated personal finance/money management tools had until now eluded the FREE dance. Enter Mint, which has relationships with more than 3,500 banks, credit unions and credit card providers, and each night securely downloads transaction data to give users a unified view of all account activity. Also check out Wesabe which is part financial software, part community.
- Games • In Q3, Electronic Arts will release a new, free, online version of its popular Battlefield series, called Battlefield Heroes.
- Bikes • Copenhagen’s City Bikes are free to use: users find a bike in one of over 100 bicycle racks found around the city, throw in a DKK 20 coin (USD 3.45 / EUR 2.70) to unlock the bike, which they get back when they return the bicycle to a rack.
- Music • Launched earlier this month, Qtrax claims to be the worlds first free and legal peer-to-peer music service. SpiralFrog, the free, ad-supported, web-based music service that launched in September 2007 in North America, last month announced that the site had hit one million unique monthly visitors.
- Social Technology: Widgets, Social Networks, Blogs etc. you name it, all for free and you can’t help getting “hit” by it.
- Education: Their are number of sites offering “free education” but recently “Link toYour Education” has launched a series of courses centric to using social media and networks. Their first online course is Free.
Now much of the “Free” is driven by advertising as a means to attract potential new customers. The new mindset of the markets is give and you may get, notice the word may. We say may because there are signs that “advertising models” are changing and consumers are not engaging as much as the past. A recent announcement states “Google Shares Drop After Ad Clicks Slow” : Shares of Google declined after a report by comScore showed slower growth in the number of people clicking on Internet advertisements in February, the second straight month of disappointing results. Google got about 99% of its $16.6 billion in sales last year from online ads.
Maybe “Free” is just a method for building a possible relationship. If so then maybe the advertisers should focus on changing the message that is more centric to relationships than it is to their products or services.
What say you?