“All you have to do is answer a pathetically easy question and you get a free XBox 360!” the ad told me.

The funny thing was when I put my mouse over the add, it didn’t matter which answer I clicked, or even if I clicked on the question itself… they all went to the same place, congratulating me for winning. Now, if I would just fill out this questionnaire and subscribe to 40 copies of Vibe magazine, I will be put in a raffle for my free XBox.

One of my giant pet peeves is with companies whose advertising is so blatantly dishonest that I wonder how those that do marketting for these companies can live with themselves. I really wonder how they do. At a dinner party, how do you tell people that you’re the guy that creates those obnoxious Flash ads on web pages that offer something for free that quite obviously isn’t or, more recently, promise to be able to download TV shows and whatnot free and legal when it’s neither.

Case and point: Put the name of a TV show, just about any TV show, into a Google search and GoogleAds will have at least one site offering downloads. Sometimes they say “free!” and sometimes they don’t, but in most cases you can’t download them. One day I was bored and it took 15 minutes of searching around the website to confirm that the show did not exist in their service — even though they were advertising specifically for that series. Of course, it’s all part of a little database they have going, but someone somewhere entered that show into the database knowing full well that it isn’t available.

“What do you do for a living, Mr. Jones?”

“I market a product that doesn’t exist in an effort to get people to come to a website that doesn’t really sell anything in particular but ads to other websites, that usually themselves don’t sell anything in particular.”

My former coworker Edgar was a halfwit. His mind never developed to the point that he could see through it when people could say they are offering an actual service, when in fact they are offering something that doesn’t exist, something that is free anyway, or something that isn’t legal. He signed on to a service that offered “unlimited free and legal music downloads” for $50. It was essentially a software program that latched itself on to Gnutella’s network with a note saying that he needed to find something that was free and track it down and download it himself. He paid $50 and when we explained it all to him he literally started crying.

“What do you do for a living, Mr. Jones?”

“I make dimwitted people cry by taking advantage of their naivete.”

As is frequently the case with new phone numbers, most calls I get on my cell phone are wrong numbers. Since my cell phone is in a different area code than that in which I live, I can usually see them coming. Today, though, I was expecting a phone call so I quickly, and excitedly, answered.

It seems there was this lady on the line that was very generous. You see, she wanted to give me stuff. All kinds of stuff. Free magazines, a free watch… and on and on. Just more and more stuff. Free!

It’s hard to be rude to a lady that’s giving you stuff. It’s hard to say that you don’t want free stuff. That, of course, is how they keep you on the line when they finally tell you that to get all this stuff, you need to buy this one teensy weensy little thing. And join this program. But you can cancel at any time! Any time at all! Just call and cancel and you get to keep all this free stuff.

There ought to be a law. Not banning them from their sales pitch, cause it wasn’t a bad idea and they got my number legitimately (note to self: have a word with my credit card company). But if they want money, they ought to be legally required to tell me so in the first minute of the conversation. That’s all I ask. Then I can save them all a bunch of time because no matter how good the deal is, I will not ever accept an offer from someone that I did not initially contact.

“What do you do for a living, Mr. Jones?”

“I give people stuff for free that they have to pay for.”

Way back when the Internet was younger, my then-girlfriend Julie spent an hour working her way through this website that promised to enter in to a $500 raffle. I was very blunt about how much she was just wasting her time and that there wasn’t a raffle or that her time would be better spent doing just about anything else.

A month or so later she got a check for $500 and I got the taste of fresh crow.

“What do you do for a living, Mr. Jones?”

“I give people stuff for free. Free as in without cost.”

That’s a job I wouldn’t mind so much having, though that actually might be harder to explain to people than actually being an internet marketing scumbag.

Category: Server Room

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3 Responses to Free*

  1. Barry says:

    Yeah, but then people bow and scrape to the good ole’ American entrepenuereal spirit and how commercialism and capitalism are what make our county great. Ok, maybe, but I kindof think it has more to do with freedom, fairness, opportunity, respect and class.

    Silly me.

  2. WillT says:

    Would that more of the latter existed these days than the former.

    I used to come up with all kinds of dispicable ways that I could make money. I was right, too, insofar as people have taken those business models (thought up separately, of course) and made good money doing it.

    One of the things that stopped me from ever pursuing these ideas was the social stigma against pursuing greed in ways that leave society worse off than before. What becomes of a society where stigmas themselves are more stigmatized than what ought to be universal values?

  3. Becky says:

    I do think that most of this could be shut down, if people had the money to seek the right legal counsel. There are all sorts of regulations about false advertising.

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