I Have to PAY for This?!? The Online Myth of ‘Free’

Back in the mid-90s, as I remember it; the Internet was mostly fan-made music sites, Yahoo! was the best search engine, and only the larger retailers had a web presence. Back then, it felt like everything at your fingertips was there for free – as long as you paid your ISP every month. This was mostly true. The Internet was being built back then by people with passion for the topics at hand, rather than those looking to make money off of that passion.

With the growth of the Internet, and a proliferation of funding and advertising models emerging, Internet users still feel that getting things for ‘free’ is the only way the Internet should work. Those reading this website will, however, know that isn’t true. Someone, somewhere, has to pay for all this!

Free is always better for me, right?

I had an interesting Twitter chat last month with a ‘filmmaker’ who claimed that YouTube was the superior platform to Vimeo for his film distribution. He claimed that since YouTube gave him some features for ‘free,’ that Vimeo offered at a dollar amount, there was no comparison. I looked at this later in a YouTube vs. Vimeo marketing comparison piece.

I countered that while he did indeed get certain services for free, his audience certainly did not. They were paying for his ‘free’ service by watching ads. He countered that those ads were how he made money. That’s about where the discussion fell apart as he was unable to envious funding models from an angle besides ‘free is always better for me.’

His goal was not to increase the exposure of his brand as a filmmaker and go after the big money of producing films for the big screen. His goal was to make money on YouTube one piece of Adsense Revenue at a time; he was a vlogger.

Advertisers make the ‘free’ world work

The filmmaker/vlogger in question is having his audience pay for his ‘free’ services by watching ads. The challenge this presents for marketers is two-fold:

  1. They have to join environments where being the ‘cost’ of viewing content doesn’t disturb the viewers. It’s all about appropriate platforms for your content.
  2. They have to create content themselves which is enjoyable to view. Viewers want to feel they’re getting content for free, not being forced to watch unenjoyable ads.

This is no longer the television age where people must sit through advertisements in order to not miss a second of their favorite program. This is the age of a world that operates at the speed of a click.

When ‘free’ doesn’t feel like free

thumbs downTo illustrate these points, I recently went onto YouTube to watch one of my favorite shows – my fellow Canadians on Epic Meal Time. This is an extreme cooking show where they make ridiculous meals that always include bacon.

I tuned in to watch the latest episode and an ad played for a Toyota truck. It wasn’t special in any way, just your average ad for a truck driving through the desert looking tough. This annoyed me greatly. Toyota scored zero points with me. I have even less of a desire to buy a Toyota now!

The problem with this content was two-fold:

  1. Toyota should have had better targeting for their advertising – people watching a cooking show are probably not their target audience.
  2. Toyota should have created something with better entertainment value. I am paying for the free YouTube features Epic Meal Time enjoys. I deserve something out of this too, and I want to be entertained.

In this instance, being free failed. It failed for the advertiser as it shrank my interest in their product. They didn’t create anything of value for me or anyone else. It was just the same truck advertisement we’ve all seen a thousand times where a gruff-voiced man is making claims about performance while the truck goes into slow motion with dirt flying off of its wheels. It’s no way to get more views for your brand, you’re better off reading a video guide like this than trying TV marketing tactics like Toyota is using here.

It also failed for Epic Meal Time in that I didn’t want to watch their video any more. The speed of a click, remember? I recall moving on to a video for Jimmy Fallon.

As marketers, it’s going to be our job to make people feel like they’re not paying when they’re reading our branded content, watching our branded videos, and using our branded games. If we do our job with this in mind, we’ll truly be creating an environment where users actually get ‘free’ services online.

About Matthew Yeoman

Matthew is the writer over on the Devumi.com blog. You can learn more about Devumi in this overview, by stopping by the blog, or by following the Devumi Gorilla on Twitter for daily updates!

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