A long long time ago, a marketer had a crazy idea. They figured out that if they gave away something for free, they’d get more leads.
Then one day Robert Cialdini noticed it and called it Reciprocity, and as we all know, it became the cornerstone for his best selling book: Persuasion.
But it’s not new of course. Ever since the first human discovered that if they did something for someone else, they would often get back what they wanted (the ultimate example and conclusion of this process is what we now call a job – regulated to stop too many of us being exploited).
When the first internet marketer came along with the FREE BOOK idea, just like job regulation, they also wanted to ensure they got paid (‘free’ is almost always an illusion), so they used an upsell, eg: “would you like post and packing with that sir?”.
They priced the upsell to ensure they broke even on every sale, and then one day another bright spark came along and monetised that too by calling it “The Self Liquidating Offer” (who wouldn’t want to pay to learn a way to ensure their advertising always at least broke even).
In the world of sales, anything that uses illusion is smoke and mirrors. This is not a judgment call, it’s just a reminder of the truth – which is this: “how far are you prepared to go to get what you want” (see the section on Philosophy in the Science of Copywriting Rule Book – First Steps)..
As a reminder of this (and the reason I’m writing about it today) I just got one of these offers in my inbox. The promise is that with this ‘free’ book, I will learn the ultimate way to sell without being pushy, salesy, slimy, spammy, or anything else some people might consider unethical.
The problem is, the entire sales page is crammed full of everything the writer says you don’t need to do. And he will make a bomb from this promotion too because, at the end of the day, we humans are easily bought.
Is there another way to make an easy buck? No. Life is about risk/reward. The easier something is (that has not yet been over exploited) the bigger the risk. If that risk doesn’t involve ripping off someone else, go for it with all your heart.
PS. The original free book idea happened centuries before the internet – Victorian England is a good example where magazines such as ‘All The Year Round’ were used to give away installments of books – Charles Dickens being perhaps the most famous (he was also the owner of that publication too – obviously no fool).
I've spent my working life starting and running a whole variety of businesses, from my first QPL Express Couriers where I travelled over 100,000 miles every year delivering packages on a motorcycle (along with a whole bunch of colleagues) to Accountz.com which made a major in-road in the UK, to ProofMEDIA my current business that focuses on Copywriting and the International Copywriters Association, which helps copywriters learn more about copywriting and the copywriting industry around the world.
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