Aug 05

Why “The Oprah Effect” Can Trump “Free!”

I don’t watch the Oprah. Maybe this makes me callous because I’m a woman and therefore am supposed to, but I can live with that.

As a marketer, I LOVE the Oprah. Oprah is a landmark. She is the only person who can legitimately be afraid of beef and then gets sued for it. Oprah’s endorsement has sparked careers (see Jill Scott and Barack Obama), sparked new martini crazes, and books like The Secret. Oprah’s blessing on your brand is basically money in the bank, and well, I think she knows that.

WHY is Oprah’s endorsement so powerful? Because it’s genuine. When Oprah recommends her favorite things, they actually are her favorite things at that time. People don’t have to figure out if she has ulterior motives or not and they know she doesn’t need the money. She’s also not doing it as a favor to someone else.

So all this talk of “Free!” being the new economy. I admit, free can and does work. I’m not telling you to ignore Chris Anderson’s book because I haven’t read it although I’m a bit afraid of the hype (that goes out to Seth Godin). The hardest part of getting customers is acquisition and if you reduce the barrier it takes for customers to get to you, they are more likely to use you. But “Free!” is not and will not be a savior. If you give me something for free and it sucks, I will not only not use it again, I will tell my friends not to use it either. Or I’ll tell them, “Hey, it’s not bad for being free, but I wouldn’t pay for it”. You can fix it to be better, but you’ve already given me the first impression that you aren’t the best out there. Why would I get burned again by even spending the time to listen to your “Hey, we fixed it” pitch? My time is my money and you’ve already burned me once.

So back to what I deem “the Oprah Effect”. Oprah is genuine and she is powerful. Her viewers know that she is picky and intelligent, so she has basically sorted through the crap (free or not) to show them ONLY things that are good. So sight unseen, free or not, they will buy what she recommends to them in droves. If you are a competitor to this product, people won’t care if your product is free if it isn’t good.

A truly genuine endorsement from an intelligent and powerful person will trump something that is merely free every time. The only way to get an endorsement is to create something people like and then ask them to spread the word. If you are launching something for free that sucks, admit in your marketing that you are looking for feedback. Let people shape your brand to make it not suck. Grandfather those people in at free for helping you out, and start charging for the product.

THEN get on Oprah. Or if you can’t get on Oprah, get on the equivalent of your Oprah in your specialty field. Or make customers feel like Oprah for recommending you. That’s for you to decide.

  • Josh Miller

    Case and point on “free is not always good”. Also somewhat to do with Oprah.

    That Grilled chicken coupons Oprah was pushing a month or so ago. I had two of them. When I used the first one, they forced me to buy a drink even though the coupon doesn’t require it, then they forced me into sides I don’t like (potatoes and slaw) even though the coupon says I get my choice. Then they gave me the crummiest pieces of chicken they had (I think a leg and a wing).

    My wife tried to use her coupon the next day and the place said they didn’t accept them during basically peak hours (lunch and dinner) even though I’d been there during the same time period the day before.

    I never did use the second coupon and I haven’t been back to KFC or had their Grilled Chicken since. The experience as a whole was absolutely terrible.