Wednesday, 22 April 2009

The merits of giving stuff out for free

Chris Anderson, the author of The Long Tail, has written a new book ‘Free: The Future of a Radical Price: The Economics of Abundance and Why Zero Pricing Is Changing the Face of Business’. The notion of freeconomics is where businesses and brands give away some of their products for free. Examples like Google where the cost of manufacture/distribution per user is so low that digital services can be offered free. This generated some heated discussion at his SXSW keynote with Guy Kawasaki with polarised views on whether digital content should be offered free or paid. These are questions I consider as an author – how much of my content (books/ videos/ PDFs) do I offer free online?

Whatever the merits of ‘Free’. we all like getting something for nothing. Whether it’s blagging a flight upgrade or getting a free sample chocolate bar on the street, it gives a good feeling. And especially in a recession with much doom and gloom about. So I was interested to experience an innovative marketing initiative from Absolut Vodka in London yesterday (most brand managers and agencies would claim their marketing initiatives ‘innovative’ but I really thought this one was).

I walked into a coffee shop I often go to Spitalfields, ordered my espresso and when I reached into my pocket the proprietor said ‘coffee is free today’ and handed me a ‘Give Kindness – Not Cash’ card. Absolut Vodka’s ‘Absolut Kindness’ initiative is running in London this week with free coffee, travelcards being given out, free snacks at cinemas. All that is asked of the consumer is that they show an act of kindness (a smile will do) that is rewarded with something free:

"For one week, kind gestures such as giving smiles, high fives and simply saying good morning are going to become currency and earn their givers coffees, drinks and cinema snacks, as we bring to life our vision of An ABSOLUT World where currency is replaced by kindness".

It created a great atmosphere in the coffee shop I was in, got everyone talking and everyone smiling. And an espresso may only be £1.70 but it’s the gesture of having it for free that gave a great start to the day. A good initiative for Absolut and for spreading random acts of kindness, but I didn’t see any free vodka being handed out…

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