I Pay Rapt Attention

What is it about Free Stuff?

Posted in Eccentricities by Zoelle on July 21, 2009

What is it with American culture and free things? This morning, my boss and I stood in line for half an hour to get a free pastry with the purchase of a hot beverage at Starbucks. Would I have typically purchased a pastry? Would I typically have gone to starbucks at that time of morning? Was the pastry even worth waiting for? The answer to all of these questions is a pretty definitive ‘hell no.’ And yet because I got a shiny coupon (both on my own and as a forward from two of my superiors at work) I shelled out my $4 so I could get the free pastry. How does this make any sense? I mean, kudos to Starbucks for getting so many people to waste so much time (and without even stocking additional pastries to meet the demand- seriously? If your promotion goes until 10:30, have enough pastries to last that long. There were basically none left at 8:30) but how do we let this happen?

Another recent example, just to drive this point home: I basically never drink coffee at all, and I never got to McDonalds, and I still seriously considered finding one in downtown Oakland yesterday so that I could get a free 8 oz mocha– just because it was free and I like whipped cream under all circumstances. I’d chalk this complete absurdity to my own proclivity for acquiring free things (after all, I probably eat more samples than normal human food during any given weekend- thank you Costco and Trader Joes…) but I’m not alone! That line was at least 3x as long as it is on even the busiest mornings- and these are people who avoid wasting time and calories at all costs! Regardless, this strategy of waving the carrot of something-free (even something that’s not entirely desirable on its own without the incentive of shiny free-ness) is one that works out really well for people. If McDonalds really wants to enter the specialty coffee market, then giving away McCafe’s once a week for a month a) gets people to try the product and thus overcome any assumptions of poor quality they might have because it’s coming from a fast-food restaurant and b) gets them to try it regularly, potentially getting them in the habit of heading to McDonalds for their morning coffee. It’s obviously not going to work on everyone, but not a bad strategy, overall. I’ll be curious to see if they’re able to overcome the stigma of their preexisting brand and have real success in this market.

Speaking of Free Stuff

Charlie Hoehn just came out with a (free) e-book on Recession-Proofing yourself as a recent college graduate. His strategy hinges on the idea of willing working for intelligent people for free in order to prove your worth, open the door to future (paid) gigs, build a network, and create an impressive portfolio. The book is only 30 pgs long (with HUGE type) so it’s worth taking a look if you’ll be graduating soon (or, like some people I know, are older and looking to transition industries during a recession or have been out of the job market for a while.)

 So: In the spirit of the Tall mini-experiment I ran last weekend (in which I tested my theory that being tall was not the most important factor in peoples’ perceptions of me as was kind of posited in a recent book on being tall [spoiler: it wasn’t.]) I’m going to try out this recommendation. Admittedly, I’m not a graduate yet, and I already essentially have 2 job offers for after graduation (so I don’t really need to recession-proof myself), but the general concept should still apply, right? I’ve got a few mini-projects I’ve been meaning to pitch to people anyways, so I’m going to use the process and scripts Hoehn outlines and we’ll see how this goes. Either way, I’ll keep you posted.


One Response

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  1. Avi said, on July 21, 2009 at 7:20 pm

    Pretty sure “tall” is the first thing anyone thinks of when they think of you. Jussayin’.

    We’re consumer whores in this country. And if a whore can get a buck without fucking, why wouldn’t she? Same principle…

    Not to be crude, or anything.

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