Category Archives: Promotions & Contests

LinkedIn and When “Free” is not “Free”

I drank a fucking boatload of Jack Daniel’s. To the point where they sent me a deed for one square foot of land in Tennessee so that I could officially be a Tennessee squire. I offered to do an ad for them after that, and I got a very nice letter back saying, “Bill, we love you, but this shit sells itself.  – Bill Maher

A couple days ago I got an email from LinkedIn offering a ‘Free Month of LinkedIn Premium’.  Hmm, I thought, LinkedIn is really the shit when is come to getting found by employers.  I can honestly say that absolutely every opportunity brought to me in the last couple years has come through LinkedIn.  More interestingly, in every occasion, it was the actual employer, not a headhunter that contacted me.

<SIDENOTE: This is bad news if you’re a headhunter or

All of this exposure came through a regular LinkedIn profile and without any active outreach on my part.  I’m actually quite content where I’m at.  So before I get on my rant about LinkedIn, first let me say this: If you don’t have a complete profile set-up on LinkedIn, stop reading this now and go do it.


I’m Serious.

I’ll stop typing until you get back…

See wasn’t that easy?

Ok, here’s the rant I promised and if you listen close there’s a lesson here for all Marketers.

So I got this email from LinkedIn…


Notice the call to action…

Free is sometimes not free

Wow! Personalized and everything! It’s like they said “Dean we know you like us and we like you too. And since we like each other so much we’re gonna do you a favor.”  So with the bait set, I started thinking that as good a LinkedIn has been, maybe I could get even more from it with LinkedIn Premium.  I knew there were other paid versions of LinkedIn, but hadn’t thought too much about it until this email arrived.  Bravo LinkedIn Email team.  I’ll bite and give you a click-through.  Nothing to lose right?

So what do I see next?

LinkedIn Premium Options

Ok, this is good; it’s clearly spelling out the differences between the various levels of LinkedIn accounts.  I can clearly see what I have, and what I’m missing out on.  I’m still in your web LinkedIn!  Great job so far.  Let’s get that “Free” trial….

There's no such thing as a free lunch

Wait…what the f#&K is this??? It’s like, a checkout page, with like, credit card info and shit.  I thought this was free?  I mean it said “free” all over the place?  When does “free” mean “give us your credit card info?”  The answer of course is “free” means give us your credit card when it’s not an offer to try a solution more so than an offer to test your memory.

It’s at that point I notice the subtle reminder…

Linkedin Fine Print

Well LinkedIn, this is where I jump off.  Geez and you were so close.

I wish us Marketing folks would quit it with these shady tricks (that’s all they are – tricks).  You see,

“Free” is “Free”.

“Free” is not surcharges, hidden fees, shipping & handling, fine print.

“Free” is “Free”.

“Free” is not “Free*”

* Discount applies to the promotional period only. Your card will start being charged when the promotional period has ended.

“Free” is “Free”

“Free” is not “Hey we’ll let you try it but not before you give us your credit card info so we can unscrupulously charge you in 30 days because by then you’ve forgotten about even signing up for the trial and our research department said that while 38% of you will be pissed off and call us to bitch and complain causing some bad PR that we’ll smooth over with a slick social media camnpaign, 62% of you won’t even notice the charge and it will be a revenue windfall for us which is important cuz we’re a public company and need to grow revenue so our shareholders will be happy.”


As a Marketer I want to offer a good product at a fair price with great service and support.  As a consumer I want the same things.  As a Marketer if I have to employ “tricks” to sell my product, it means that my product can’t stand on its own.  As a Marketer, it also means that I’m lazy and resorting the same bag of tricks that I detest as a consumer.

Let’s be better than that.  Let’s promote our products and services the way we would want them promoted to us.  Let’s forget that 3 pt. font exists and stop it with the fine print.  Let’s stop thinking about fooling the customer and think about how to provide value to the customer.

In the end, LinkedIn, a service I love, missed an opportunity to give me a taste of LinkedIn Premium with no-strings attached.  They could have given me the upgrade “truly free” for 30 days, shown me value, and then pitched me.   Instead, they gambled, asked for credit card info and hoped I’d forget the ticking clock of the trial and somehow not notice the recurring charges.  And that hurts my heart.


To LinkedIn: Your product is better than that, you don’t need to resort to “Trick Marketing”

To Marketers: If you need to resort to “Trick Marketing” to sell your product, try instead to make your product so good it doesn’t need tricks.  Or as wise old Jack Daniels might say: “Make the shit sell itself”.

The All-Time Worst Promotion in History Ever

I heard a radio ad the other day that actually caught my attention. Imagine that, a radio ad that caught my attention…score one for old skool media. On the other hand it caught my attention for all the wrong reasons because it was promoting what has to be the worst promotion in the history of mankind. It was so stupid I actually have done some homework on it just to make sure I’m not over-reacting.

Quaker State and Cash Back Bonus

Really, it could happen

The promotion is Quaker State’s “Cash Back Bonus”. So why is it so horrible? Well actually, the promotion is actually called “Cash Back Bonus when you hit 300,000 miles”. No, that’s not a typo, 300,000 miles. First of all, who the Hell drives a car until it has 300,000 miles on it? Forget that, who makes a car that lasts 300,000 miles? I mean I have a car that has 197,861 miles on it and pray to God every morning that it doesn’t break apart on the Interstate. It makes noises that have never been heard by human ears before. If there’s a car out there made of some kryptonitic substance that gives it a half-life of 1,000 years please let me know. But for the purposes of this blog I’ll play along and deconstruct the merits of this program for you.

So, for my analysis I’ll use the Toyota Camry as the example. It’s been one of the best-selling (and reliable) cars since the 1800’s and seems a logical choice. Using industry averages I will assume that I am driving 15,000 miles per year and getting oil changes every 5,000 miles. Using those parameters I would reach 300,000 miles in 13.3 years. Now if you read the fine print, you are required to use one of Quaker States “Specialty” motor oils (i.e. expensive). Of course there are other requirements like keeping ALL your oil change receipts and some other things that on their own make cash back unattainable, but again I am throwing all reason out the window.

So, let’s continue…

I did backwards math to determine that if that car were eligible today it would be a 1998 model year. Using a generous description of its condition on Kelly Blue Book that car had an estimated trade-in value of $1,867 in very good condition. Now, I could argue that most 13 year old cars with 300,000 miles are a piece of shit that even the most desperate teenager wouldn’t be caught dead in and is more likely a target of demolition derby enthusiasts but again lets suspend disbelief for the moment.

Now, let’s remember that you’re required to use “specialty” motor oil. Estimating the cost of that over using standard oil I figured that you’ll pay an additional $12 for each of the 40 oil changes you’ll have to perform costing you an additional $480.

I smell bullshit

So the net-net is that you’ll arrive at the eligibility for this promotion with Quaker State providing you a check for $1,867. Subtract the additional cost of Specialty oil and you’re left with $1,387….and a piece of shit car that will challenge the dignity of even the most frugal driver. Congratulations, Quaker State just rewarded you with a bonus of about $100 a year for using its specialty oil. Of course this comes with the assumptions of:
You even making it to 300,000. If the duct tape holding it together falls apart at 299,000 you’re SOL.
• Anyone at Quaker State even acknowledging that the program ever existed 13 years from now and can stop laughing that you even bit on it.
• You have the humility to keep all the receipts, meet all the requirements, fill out all the paperwork, and have the willingness to acknowledge that you actually drove that rust bucket that long.

Sasquatch Riding a Unicorn

It could happen

But let’s face it. This thing is some demented piece of science fiction that was probably borne out of a marketing department that was tasked with coming up with a promotion that sounded unbelievable and masked the fact that it was also unachievable. I’m pretty sure that when the marketing folks at Quaker State were batting ideas around, it came down between the “Cash Back Bonus” and the “If You Hit a Sasquatch that is Riding a Unicorn with your Car & Bring it into the Quaker States Offices Alive, We’ll Give You $1,867 Sweepstakes” because the odds are roughly equivalent of either being fulfilled.

If I have offended someone who right now is driving that 1998 Toyota Camry with 300,000 miles on it only through the miracle of Quaker State Specialty oil, I offer my sincere apologies…actually I offer my insane curiosity of ‘what the hell????”

For Quaker State I offer my sincere amazement that this promotion actually made its way into existence without someone in the meeting dying of laughter. Your belief that this would actually encourage someone to take the 300,000 challenge is admirable if it weren’t so obviously disingenuous.

For all you other marketers out there, the lesson is to not treat the public like a bunch of idiots.  They are way smarter than you give them credit for.

As for me, while the world waits for Quaker State to prove the existence of the mythical “300,000 car”, I’m going hunting for Unicorn-riding Sasquatches in my 2000 Toyota Sienna (197,884 miles and hanging by a thread).

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