In my time with McDonald’s, I watched many advertising agencies bring new advertising ideas to the table.
 
It seemed like idea after idea involved McDonald’s offering something free. Back then, we called it “value-added.”
Marketers still claim the most important word in a headline is the word “free.”  I suppose the claim is that “free” will always draw the eye of a buyer.

Marketers use “free” as an access point to add-on purchases and future purchases.  “Get ’em hooked, and they’ll start buying.”

Two problems.
 
First, there is no perceived value in “free.”  Second, consumers have difficulty paying later for something they received free today.
When we go out this evening to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, the chips and salsa aren’t really free.  The food cost is simply spread over the other menu items. Because we’ve been so conditioned as chip-eaters, it would be very difficult to charge for chips and salsa today.
chips and salsa
Chips and salsa have little value unless we don’t receive our heaping helping… within a couple minutes of squirming into a booth.  Free chips and salsa are expected, but not valued.
Once we offer free, we’ve slipped to the bottom of the slope.  Where do we go from there?
  • Add more food to the plate.
  • Add an extra service.
  • Offer a stronger risk reversal.
  • Zag when they Zig.
Raise prices!
 

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