The difference between ‘free’ and free

The difference between 'free' and free

The difference between 'free' and free

When is a freebie not a freebie? When you have to pay for it! Sounds simple, but in the real world things aren’t that clear cut. So this week we’re introducing a new site convention – the difference between ‘free’ and free.

Our forums have always been clear – we have the freebies (no spend) required and freebies (low spend) boards. The latter is for when there’s a cost associated with getting the freebie eg, you need to send off for it (stamp cost), or pay for delivery. The first means absolutely no cost.

This is a convention we’ve struggled with in the weekly email where space is a premium so from now on it works like this:

  • When it’s free

    This is where there is absolutely no cost to you. Eg, you fill in an online form or web app to get the freebie. I’ve also decided that if you need to pick it up in store then that’s in this category (even though you could argue there are transport costs – but we need draw the line somewhere).

    Example from this week’s email:

    FREE £150 insulation for ALL – here there’s no cost to you whatsoever and provided you qualify it’s a total freebie.

  • When its ‘free’

    Here we are indicating that the company fairly refers to it as a freebie, but that there may be some costs associated. I know the difference is small, but the key is we will prominently tell you about the charge anyway – so see it as part of the whole package.

    Example from this week’s email:

    ‘FREE’ £8 personalised mug (pay £2 p&p) – there is a real cost associated, but it’s the standard delivery cost only.   

    Another use of this would be last week’s:  ‘Free’ up to £32 tie if you buy a £2 newspaper. While the tie itself is free, you need to shell out for the paper – so if you weren’t planning to, it’ll cost you.

In general we’ll be following that convention in the email and all new things on the site. Though there may be editorially justified exceptions. An extreme example (sadly, made-up) will help: 

Imagine a company is giving away a £30,000 Mercedes to everyone who sends a stamped, addressed envelope – we’d probably just focus on the freebie as the cost is negligible in context.

Just because they call it a freebie, doesn’t mean we will

If any companies are reading this thinking that calling something ‘free’, but manipulating their pricing means we’ll follow – they’re very much mistaken.

Often this happens with package and postage charges – they’re inflated to cover the freebie. If the p&p is disproportionately high, we’ll simply phrase it differently (as we’ve done in the past).

Eg, suppose a spectacles company said it was giving £30 glasses for free, but the p&p was £10. Provided the deal was good and worth telling people about we’d phrase it as: Get £30 glasses for £10 even if their marketing called it a freebie. 

The only problem here is when people go for these deals, what we write doesn’t match up to what they see – so we tend to have to explain it out to help.

Thoughts welcome.