About Me

John Fahy is the Professor of Marketing in the University of Limerick and Adjunct Professor of Marketing at the University of Adelaide. He is an award winning author and speaker on marketing issues around the world.

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The Power of Free!

Are you one of these people, that finds the word FREE, particularly when it is written in capitals, irresistible? Does it grab your attention and bring you into shops even when you had no intention of going there? Have you accumulated large volumes of free stuff that you never use, so you pass it onto your kids and they never use it either? And more worryingly, have you found that the word free has led you to actually spend more in a shop or on a website than you originally intended? In short, why is free such a seductive word?



If we have any doubts about its power, recent research findings should ally them. In his book Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely reports the results of an experiment which shows the extent of the difference free makes. When consumers faced a choice between paying 15 cents for a Lindt chocolate and one cent for a Hershey’s Kiss, about 73 percent chose the former. When both were reduced by one cent in price to 14 cents and free, about 69 percent chose the Kiss. The relative price difference between the two had not changed but consumer behaviour flipped.


The reason of course that we consistently behave this way is that every purchase decision contains an element of risk. Free is a powerful antidote to this risk because there is no visible possibility of loss. And when it is mixed in with other prices, consumers will frequently make sub-optimal decisions because of its allure. The lessons in this are obvious. Free is one of the most powerful weapons available to businesses for attracting attention, creating enquiries, encouraging trial and generating sales or bulk sales. And when it’s your turn to be the consumer, watch out for its magnetic appeal.

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