A situation I run into from time to time is a client who doesn’t want me to use the word “free” because they feel it is somehow low class, sleazy, inappropriate, or dated.
“We want to convey a higher class image,” they will explain.
They then ask me, “Wouldn’t it be better to say ‘complimentary’ instead of ‘free’?”
After all, they implore me, “complimentary” says free but without using the declasse word “free”.
To put this issue to rest once and for all, listen carefully…
“Free” is one of the two most persuasive words in the English language. (The other is “you”.)
You should use free as much as you can, as often as you can.
And you should always say free, never the snootier “complimentary”.
Everybody understands free and responds to it.
Some people actually think “complimentary” means “giving a compliment”.
The great, late 20th century copywriter Bill Jayme believed you could never say free too much or too often.
“If something is free, say it seven ways till Sunday,” he famously advised.
Some grammarians complain that we copywriters are redundant when we write “free gift” because all gifts are free.
Yet in a split test of “free gift” vs. “gift”, the free gift pulled a greater response. Apparently, it helps to remind and reassure people that your gift is free.
If your argument against using “free” is that you market to a sophisticated audience and so using “free” would be talking down to them, let me disabuse you of this notion.
JH, a friend of mine who worked in a medical ad agency, specialized in creating mailings inviting doctors to a free symposia.
One day he found a pocket calendar he could buy wholesale for a dollar. He then did an A/B split test where “A” was the invitation only and “B” also offered the pocket calendar as a free bonus for attending.
The “B” test cell with the free calendar offer out-pulled the “A” test cell without the premium sixfold.
Online, take pains to not abuse the meaning of “free” or use it inappropriately.
For instance, many marketers say you can get a “free 30-day trial” of their product…but to do that, you pay with your credit card up front. Therefore it’s only free if you return the product for refund.
The proper way to phrase this is a “risk-free” offer. Any time you say “free offer” and then ask for the customer’s credit card, you instantly lose credibility.
Bob Bly is the author of “World’s Best Copywriting Secrets” and has written copy for more than 100 companies including IBM, Boardroom, Medical Economics and AT&T. He is the author of more than 75 books and a columnist for Target Marketing, Early To Rise and The Writer. McGraw-Hill calls him “America’s top copywriter”.