Free is just another word…

Posted: September 26, 2008 in Misleadership
Tags: ,

Have you seen the commercials where the guy is singing about freecreditreport.com? In one he and his band are dressed as pirates in a cheesy seafood restaurant. In another, he and his “posse” are playing their instruments and singing as they drive a mangled used subcompact car off the lot.

The jingles are very catchy, the kind that get stuck in your head and won’t leave until you think of something even stickier and nastier, like “I’m too sexy for my shirt.” (Sorry, I had to do it.)

In the car commercial, he sings “F-R-E-E that spells free credit report.com baby.”

Only guess what? Freecreditreports.com isn’t free. It charges a monthly monitoring fee, which you can cancel without ever paying, although I’m guessing that many people forget and I’m betting their business model is based on a particular percentage of people doing exactly that.

In their defense, at the end of the commercial, in fine print at the top of the screen and in a rapid voiceover they say “Offer applies with enrollment in Triple Advantage.”  I guess that constitutes fair warning that something is up, although there’s no mention of a fee of any kind, while the URL freecreditreport.com is highly visible in bold white type in the lower right corner throughout the entire commercial.

On their website they are equally clear and honest. In small gray type on a grey background, smaller than the bold type on the rest of the page, off to the side, away from the big golden oval that says, in glowing letters, “Get your Free Credit Report & Score,” it says:

“IMPORTANT INFORMATION

When you order your free report here, you will begin your free trial membership in Triple AdvantageSM Credit Monitoring. If you don’t cancel your membership within the 7-day trial period**, you will be billed $14.95 for each month that you continue your membership.

ConsumerInfo.com, Inc. and Freecreditreport.com are not affiliated with the annual free credit report program. Under a new Federal law, you have the right to receive a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies. To request your free annual report under that law, you must go to http://www.annualcreditreport.com.”

That’s quite a different little tune than “F-R-E-E that spells free credit report.com baby.”

Listening to that song got me thinking about another song, which I hereby dedicate to those champions of misleadership at Freecreditreports.com. (Apologies to Kris Kristofferson, who wrote the original Me and Bobby McGee – yes, he wrote it, not Janis.)

Free is just another word for hidden fees to pay,
those fees are piling up now every day,
New is just another word for same stuff different day
Don’t they have to mean the things they say, oh yeah,
How can it be free if we have to pay?

Can someone please explain to me how we as an industry expect people to listen to our ads and believe our claims when we keep singing the same misleading song?

Comments
  1. Josef Katz says:

    ouch. All marketers at some point have run a FREE promotion with some strings attached. It has been said that FREE is the most powerful word a marketer can use. Of course everyone knows there is no such thing as a ‘FREE lunch’.

    While you are on this subject what about all those checks you receive in the mail that once cashed enroll you in a monthly credit card protection program. Those checks (well until recently) keep coming. Who doesn’t want some “FREE” money? What is your view on those marketing programs?

  2. jlsimons says:

    Hi Josef, thanks for the comment. As for your question, I’ve never felt comfortable with checks that when cashed signify an action on the part of the recipient. Many people don’t read the fine print (THEY SHOULD) and while I don’t believe in protecting people from their own actions, I do believe in avoiding misleading practices. I think that, rather than using a check, a rebate after the people take the required action is cleaner and less misleading. If you’re legitimately trying to incentivize an action, then the latter works just as well.

  3. Faithful Reader says:

    …aw, but he’s sooo cute and the latest ad so “green” there must be some socially redeeming value to it???

    FR

  4. jlsimons says:

    Faithful reader, do you want me to print the lyrics to the song and plant them indelibly into your brain? Is that what you want? Really?

  5. […] free is just another word… in the car commercial, he sings “free that spells free credit report.com baby.” only guess what? freecreditreports.com isn’t free. it charges a monthly monitoring fee, which you can cancel without ever paying, although i’m guessing … […]

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