When The Beatles sang, ‘The best things in life are free...,’ they certainly didn’t have freebies in mind. But few can resist the lure of something offered for free. I heard my husband tell someone I’d buy a fridge if a pin were offered as a freebie. ‘Gross exaggeration!’ I denied the charge, then added, ‘But for a pen, maybe.’ If the pen is mightier than the sword, then a free pen is not to be sneezed at, I’d reckon.
It’s the same with bargain offers. Not the best things in life at all, but when a pamphlet arrives, peeping enticingly out of the daily newspaper, informing you in ungrammatical English that’s aiming hard to be French – “Speciale Salle! Gete many good’s is free” – about a bargain sale, you grab your purse and sail out, all set to jostle your way through suffocatingly overcrowded halls, breathing the oxygen of special offers, elated at the prospect of getting more than your money’s worth.
A friend once described his experience of falling into the bargain offer trap. He had gone to a sale where he was offered five trousers for the price of two and he jumped at it. A trouser gained is a trouser saved and three for free could keep his wife quiet for a few years - an unparalleled bargain. She had been after him to buy a new pair and he was thrilled at the thought of dangling not one but five before her wondering eyes.
Things got lively once he returned home with a carry bag bulging with trousers shoved higgledy piggledy into it, a leg or two looping out. The zip of the first pair got stuck and after home remedies including using wax on it failed, he gave an almighty tug that pulled it right off. The second trousers were two sizes too small and it took the efforts of the whole family to take him out of them.
The third went into the washing machine by accident and emerged in a new avatar, changed in colour, texture and size, dyeing his best white shirt and his wife’s favourite mauve saree a shocking magenta in the process. The fourth appeared a reasonable fit until he sat down at a meeting. An embarrassing rending sound that drew all eyes to him signalled a tear that rendered him immobile and stuck to his seat till everybody left. He gave away the fifth, he said, to the first person who came to him with a hard luck story.
My house is cluttered with useless things either got free or bought at “Bargain Sales.”
I have a stack of unidentifiable stuff made of plastic that sets my husband’s teeth on edge, sheets that nervously disintegrate at the sight of water, cracked plates, glasses that break on a whim, a water watch, whatever that means, non-stick pans with remnants of dosa sticking like glue to them, pens that refuse to write and electronic gadgets that had started with a bang and ended immediately with a crackle, pop, fizzle and a final whimper.
True, there’s no such thing as a free lunch but I still fall for clever and psychologically astute advertising gimmicks by manufacturers and management gurus.
Against my better judgement I go for the attractively packaged junk food only because it brings something free with it, never mind that it is more junk food. Messages on my mobile phone about bargains and exciting promotional offers make me glow with anticipation. Two kilos of rice for the price of one – here I come! A new coffee brand with a mug free? That’s the one for me! A chocolate box with a packet of biscuits is my choice, for sure!
I hate biscuits, the mug is a foul colour and I’m off coffee and chocolates, but what the heck, these things are FREE!!!
The freebie might well be substandard stuff or its cost might be included in the price of the main item, but the joy of getting something free gets the better of commonsensical considerations.
The story about the man who bought a packet of oats and returned to the shop to claim the promised free cholesterol might not be far-fetched. Whether it is “sugar free” or “cholesterol free,” the operative word “free” influences the choice of brand.
The Beatles knew what marketing was all about when they sang, ‘The best things in life are free/ But you can keep them for the birds and bees/ Now give me money/ That’s what I want...’
(A fortnightly column by the city-based writer, academic and author of the Butterfingers series)