The Saga Of The Free Pink Phone
My mission: get a free pink phone. Upon reaching the Web site, I learn that not only is it pink, it's diamond-studded! My wife will think this is way cool, especially because it's free and it's "valued at $699."
At 2:27 p.m., I begin the process by reading some small print on the site: "To receive the incentive gift you must: 1) register with valid information; 2) complete the user survey; 3) complete at least 2 Silver, 2 Gold and 4 Platinum offers; and 4) refer 1 unique household(s) that also complete these requirements. Purchase may be required. Please read Terms & Conditions for details. Upon completion of all requirements, we will ship the incentive gift to you with free shipping." Wait a minute. "Purchase may be required." What's up with that? Do I have to purchase the free phone? If I have to purchase something else, does that mean the pink phone is "free"?
At 2:30, I set out to answer those questions. I enter my e-mail address and click to continue. "Congratulations! To qualify for your Baby Phat Phone, start by fully completing any of the Silver offers listed below! It's fast and easy! How can we offer this Baby Phat Phone at no cost to you? Our sponsors cover the costs of the Baby Phat Phone along with the shipping and handling charges. To claim your Baby Phat Phone simply complete the offers as instructed. Once you fulfill the participation requirements, we will ship the incentive gift to you with free shipping."
Under "Silver Offers," I am instructed to "complete any" of 19 offers that follow. Sign up for Netflix? Sorry, did that a year ago. Four free airline tickets? Okay, those could be useful. Click to sign up. Oops! The cheapest "membership" is $19, there's a $15 shipping, handling and processing charge and they want me to use a credit card to become a "member." And this is just the first of several offers I need to choose to get my free phone. Maybe I don't need tickets after all. Back to the Silver offer page. Free coffee and a travel mug for joining a coffee club? Read the fine print: after the free stuff, my credit card will be charged every four weeks for the coffee I choose, and if I cancel there's an additional $20 charge. Maybe I'll stick with Starbucks.
Other Silver Offers: Dermitage wrinkle treatment? Don't need that. Columbia House TV CD club? Nope. Hoodia appetite reducer? Learn Spanish, French or German? Make money on eBay? Ritmo y Pason music CD's? Ivory White tooth whitener? Gevalia coffee and machine? SeattleCoffeeDirect.com? (Is there a worldwide glut of coffee that I haven't heard about?) Vista Print business cards? Two more skin-treatment offers, vitamins, another make-money-on-eBay gig and Stamps.com. Well, I have to choose "any" of the silver offers, so at 2:40 p.m. I go with the 12-in-one vitamins, four free products in all. They must be special because they come with a "personal health coach" (Klee Irwin), who will pay for half of the vitamins if I like them. Although it doesn't stipulate exactly how often Mr. Irwin will be coming to my home, the offer is just $7.95 for shipping and handling. However, I can't send them a check. It has to be a credit card. The Terms & Conditions run a full 1,396 words. I spend about five minutes perusing the T&C and don't find anything alarming, but nonetheless feel uncomfortable charging $7.95 to my card for free vitamins.
At 3 p.m., I'm thinking maybe my wife won't be getting a free pink diamond-studded cell phone valued at $699. I decide to jump to the Gold offers. There are no fewer than 37, including some of the same stuff I rejected on the Silver page. Super Colon Cleanse? Gotta click on that. "Dear Friend, did you know that the average person stores between 5 to 25 POUNDS of waste accumulated over the years in their colon?" Yuk! But I can get the sale price of $24.95 (regular price: $39.95) and shipping for $9.95. Less than $40 bucks for a free pink diamond-studded cell phone, not counting the Silver and Platinum offers I also have to accept. Yawn and jump to Platinum out of sheer curiosity: there's BocaJava, Netflix and Dermitage again, along with 28 other offers (anyone for a $3 silk tie?).
I give up at 3:15. If I had run the gauntlet of required offers, I could have revealed my credit card information to eight different vendors, in addition to giving the pink phone folks my e-mail address, and I would have had to cajole another household into doing the exact same thing. Is this kind of incentivized lead generation worth legislating into extinction? Sure, it's frustrating, and you have to wonder about the quality of the leads delivered. Personally, I believe anyone dogged enough to complete the required offers should be given a special award (or full-time employment). My bigger concern is that this type of lead generation activity makes it harder for the rest of us in the industry to convince marketers there's a different way of obtaining quality sales leads, one that doesn't drive consumers to the brink of exhaustion.
But wait, the news story also mentioned a site called http://www.freelawntractor.com, and it's not even 4 o'clock. After all, how much can a free lawn tractor cost?