How FREE Offers Can Mean Huge Profits

//How FREE Offers Can Mean Huge Profits

My Pen Story

Several years ago, I was at a small-business expo in Raleigh, North Carolina where I was assailed by a vendor of a real estate agency. This excitable man was convinced that I needed a free pen:

“Here!” he said, pushing his promotional, logo laden pen into my face.
“No, thanks,” I said politely as I walked on by.
“But, it’s FREE,” he bellowed, wiggling the pen in my face.
“I KNOW,” I responded with equal vigor, looking over my shoulder walking away.

This vendor later tried to push his FREE pen into another gentleman’s face. This gentleman, dressed much like a banker had a much better response than I did…

After the vendor held up the free pen, this sharp looking gentlemen reached into his jacket, pulled out his own pen and waved it at the vendor before returning it to his inside pocket. The vendor quickly cowered away because he knew that offering something free to someone who already has their problem solved (in this case having a writing instrument) won’t need what he is offering—Free or not.

If you have a sofa at home, you don’t care how FREE the sofa on the corner is. You don’t need a sofa—free otherwise.

So, if you are offering something free, it still needs to have some kind of value to the person you are offering it to. As presented earlier, a free pen offered to someone who already has a pen offers no value.

However, the word FREE in advertising and marketing has magic powers. You just need to know how to wield that power. If you wield it improperly, you look foolish like that vendor, but if you learn from the masters who’ve been wielding this powers for years, you will have great success.


Before the Internet

Back in Claude Hopkins day, the twenties, to measure the success of a campaign, he said,

“We offer a sample, a book, a free package, or something to induce direct response.” [1]

The word or phrase here from Hopkins is “to induce a direct response.” Anyone who knows anything about marketing knows that the name of the game is to get the product in the person’s hands as quickly as possible before they change their minds.

We all get forgetful and have every intention to do something—such as write Christmas cards, thank the neighbor for picking up our trash can lying in the street, etc. But we never get around to doing it. Making a sale is that much harder, so a direct or quick response is needed.  The more you can get people to buy on impulse, the better.

So offering a “sample, a book, a free package” is the best way to get people to act impulsively. There’s no cost to your customer, so quick mindless response is likely.

In an ad for Knight Motored cars back in 1915, they used free booklets to entice readers of the ad to get more information and to get them on their mailing list. Here is an excerpt:

“Get our Because of our limited production— literature over 1200 cars during 1915—and the increasing and insistent demand for Knight Motored cars at a fair price—the Moline-Knight 50 H. P., Four-Cylinder at $2500 will be oversold early. So write at once for descriptive booklets…” [2]*

*this is written as is with all the spelling and grammatical errors unchanged.

Later we’ll discuss the try-before-you-buy offer which is different than the free offers discussed here. Other than test driving a car, you can’t really sample a car. So the strategy is to get information about the car to the right people.


FREE eBooks.

Free eBooks seem to be popular downloads to get people to opt-in into a list. But here’s the problem. Often times, there is too much reading. And sometimes consumers will have their guard up if you give away entire book way for free.

There’s a disconnect. You want to offer something small but with lots of value. And that is knowledge in a small package. You want to make it seem that you took your vast amount of knowledge and put together in a FREE Report, but you didn’t exactly slave over it in writing it out.

Create a free report about something your prospect may have not ever heard before…

7 Herbs That Could Save Your Life But Your Doctor Never Told You About

7 Great Recipes to Serve Sparkling Water that Will Make You the Life of the Party

7 Great Recipes to Serve Sparkling Water that will life to your party


Don’t Ask for Too Much Too Soon…

In a local magazine, I saw a ¼ page ad for custom built barns. The photo shows a custom standalone garage that looks like a barn. There is a telephone number and a domain name.

It’s asking for the sale too soon. It’s asking too much too soon. In this case the ad is asking the reader to go to the website without any real promise of return benefit for doing so. The ad would have been a lot more successful for just adding a few lines offering a free catalog or, even better, a free instruction manual on how to do something—possibly how to measure an area for the best barn possible.

What they should have is:

Download your FREE Idea Book for Your NEW Garage at:

This would get you a better response, get people on your mailing list, and you would able to gauge how people are receptive to your ad/product.

Running an ad with a URL, you have no idea how many people are interested.

When you send a direct response marketing message, you find out if people are…

  1. Interested but don’t have time now
  2. Interested but don’t have money now
  3. Not interested.

If you send them to a URL, you will never know. More on how to measure results later.


List Building Problem:

Since the internet is free, there is a list building problem.  With the ads in the past, they needed to be judicious about who they put on their list. They only want interested buyers (i.e. hot leads). Today there is a lot of marketers who just anybody and everybody on their list because it doesn’t cost them anything to send them e-mails.  No postage, no envelopes, no big deal, right? Not so fast.

Robert Collier said:

“There is one type of letter that is always interesting news, provided the product you are offering has an established market. That type is the price-reduction, money-saving offer.”[3]

To be clear, the best pricing offer are for products that are known to the public. Michael Masterson said in his book…

“Since the Offer Lead is the most direct lead type you’ll come across, you will mostly want to use it for products that are easy to explain and for prospects who already know something about you, about what you’re selling, and even about the market value of what’s for sale?” [4]

Another thing to consider and understand is the FREE returns. Newcomers to business believe that offering free returns will kill their business and their happiness. Hey, it’s no fun having to deal with a return. But guess what? It’s also a hassle for the customer, too. No matter how easy you make it, some customers just don’t want to go through the hassles of shipping a package back to you.

So having free returns is totally worth it. Offering free returns allows you to up the price on your product. You are adding security to their purchase, so your customer will spend the extra money knowing that they can return it free if they don’t like it.

I once dated a girl who owned sixty pairs of khaki pants (as was part of her work uniform) and never returned any of them because it was too much of a hassle to bring them back to the store. They were never worn and just sitting in her garage perfectly new with tags on them.

When offering free products, make sure you’re only offering a sample of the main product. So if you sell a 12 ounce tube of shaving cream, offer a 3 ounce as a free sample—but not a full size tube. Few people will pay the full price after getting a full size for free during your special promotion.

Everybody loves FREE.

There is so much noise you have to cut through the clutter. One marketing extraordinaire said:

“There’s so much noise in the world that it’s impossible to know what’s worth buying. Most people buy stuff that they have a personal connection with or that is recommended by a trusted friend.” [5]


Provide Information:

Other than getting people on your list so you can market to them over and over, the idea behind the free offer—in the case of an e-book—is to provide information to your end user. If you’re in the type of business where your product isn’t readily clear to the majority, offering a free book will help provide that information.


Spreading of the word.

One thing that’s different today is the spread of ideas. In the past, where you offered free samples you many have been working on one person at a time. Today, with Yelp, Facebook, Twitter your free sample or free offer may be talked about and reach millions of people. The technology has changed and the reach has increased significantly, but the concept is an age old one. This shouldn’t be taken lightly because you have to work just as hard and even harder than they did back in the beginning of the last century.


In one of Seth Godin’s first books, he gave it away. Then he sold it.

“When a traditional publisher offered best-selling author Seth Godin a ‘very significant advance’ for his next book, ‘Unleashing the Ideavirus,’ he turned them down. This was his big chance to prove his ideas were right on the money – that content owners can make a profit by giving it away … free.” –Marketing Sherpa [14]


Another great example of the free offer at work is the Bill Bonner newsletter. It’s an Agora product. After watching a 30 minute sales letter (you can see it at: ) you get a free copy of a his book, The Great American Credit Collapse. After he scares you with the video, he then offers a free book, and then before you know it, you’re signed up for his newsletter. That’s the sales funnel that has made Agora a very profitable business and Bill Bonner a rich man.

And this type of inducement goes back decades.

For Wilson’s Ear Drums—one of Albert Lasker’s first accounts—their ads merely said…

“Write to-day for our 168 page FREE book on DEAFNESS, giving you full particulars and plenty of testimonials.”

What’s powerful about this is that anyone writing to get a free book is likely in their target market—and not some kid who just wants a free book. This allows them to measure the success of their ad and to note where the ad’s effectiveness is. Is the right newspaper, for instance.

Also note that they were giving away a book with 168 pages. That’s no small booklet. Also, the key here is plenty of testimonials.

Claude Hopkins remarks that people are self-involved and only care about themselves so trying to sell, sell, sell is futile.

“They care nothing about your interests or profit… The best ads ask no one to buy.” [11]

This is where the free offer comes in.

In today’s digital age, it’s easier than ever to offer something of value without costing you much. If you sell lawn equipment, you could write and offer a free guide book on how to keep your lawn looking nice and how to maintain equipment to last a long time.

Back in the day, nearly all advertisers offered something of value, but today not so much. They’re more concerned about image and building a brand.

Every product can offer something of value for free. I was perusing through some old Gourmet magazines from 1975 and came across a lot of ads you would never see today.

There was a one-third column ad for Johnnie Walker Red with a recipe on how to make Kilmarnock Kabob. It listed about 12 ingredients and instructions of how to make the Kabob. Below that was an offer to get the “new Johnnie Walker Red gourmet cookbook.” Free of course. Just fill out the coupon.

You would never see an ad like that today. It’s hard to sell something as meaningless and potentially harmful as alcohol. A lot of ads just resort to the coolness of alcohol and saying things like “unique blend” and things like that. Meaningless.

There were many ads in this Gourmet magazine from the early seventies that offered a recipe on the ad and offer to write in for free cookbook. You can’t beat that. With this strategy they will get good feedback on how much interest there is in their product. Also, their ad only took one third of a page and had a total of 175 words.

The headline read: Here’s a way to use Johnnie Walker Red you probably never thought of.

Johnnie Walker was no small brand at the time. In fact they had full page ad for their Black Label Scotch with only two words: Love thyself. I’m guessing they got more orders on the Johnnie Walker Red.

On the following page was a full page ad for Seagram’s Gin with only 23 words on it. They will never know how many people liked that particular ad. They will never know the effectiveness of that ad. All they have is some people sitting around a boardroom saying, “I like it. It speaks to me. It makes my bosom swell.”

The headline for Seagram’s Gin: The Seagram’s Gin French Martini.

The ad basically tells you to add a few drops of Cognac to your normal martini. Okay, not much there.

In another magazine from 1969, there was another recipe and an offer for a free recipe booklet and this was for Cointreau liqueur. The recipe was for Cointreau Quick Chicken Casserole.

They figured out a clever (and scientific) way to sell liquor. What can you say about liquor anyway? I guess just ads with men hanging around the golf course with headlines like: “Scotch for people who know the difference.” I guess you can’t guess who makes that Scotch.

Here’s an ad for Kahlua:


See how you can create a booklet that someone can send for.





[2] Tipper, Harry. Advertising, its principles and practice (Kindle Locations 3193-3195). New York : Ronald Press.

[3] Collier, Robert. The Robert Collier Letter Book (Kindle Locations 551-553).  . Kindle Edition.

[4] Masterson, Michael ; Forde, John . Great Leads: The Six Easiest Ways to Start Any Sales Message (p. 67). American Writers & Artists, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

[5] Jeff Goins:

[10] Taken at the Flood (p. 46)


[11]Hopkins,  Claude C.. Scientific Advertising (p. 15). Start Publishing LLC. Kindle Edition.






By |2017-05-02T13:28:09+00:00May 2nd, 2017|Categories: Sales Copy Strategies|