It’s not difficult to see why – as a general rule, we’re all motivated by what direct response marketer Scott Martin refers to as ‘the epic deal’ or promise of a freebie… ‘even if the reader is stonking rich’. If copy that sells is about stressing benefits, there’s no bigger benefit than getting something for nothing.
‘Free’ will often turn up in lists of ‘essential’ or ‘most persuasive’ words for copywriters – but there are of course caveats. As business copywriter Eric Brantner writes: “The word ‘free’ is intoxicating.. Just don’t overdo it, or you’ll come off looking spammy.”
Perhaps the best introduction to the nuances of this powerful word is the study on the impact that ‘free’ had on consumer behaviour in relation to Lindt chocolate truffles and Hershey ‘Kisses’ (as detailed by Dan Ariely in his book Predictably Irrational, and summarised neatly by Copyblogger.com here).
Now a new experiment courtesy of A Place for Mom (a US site connecting families with OAP care services) via whichtestwon shows us that – even where its use would seem perfectly rational – there may be times (shock, horror) when, actually, other tangible benefits outweigh something for nothing.
In this case, 13.48% more consumers completed a lead generation form on the test copy without the word ‘free’ – although this was a multivariate test so other factors may also have had an impact on uplift.
Nevertheless, as the whichtestwon analysis states, what’s interesting about this result is that “it proves ‘FREE’ is not invariably the top-performing benefit. You have to get inside your visitors’ heads and think through what they are really hoping to accomplish by filling our your form.”
You can have that one. For free.
In this case, convenience and problem solving – i.e., ‘Simplify your search’ – was more powerful.