Thursday, August 6, 2009

From my parents: There really is a free lunch!

This week is "Free Week" on This Young Economist. That is, every post this week pertains to the notion of "free." If you haven't caught it, I'm giving away a free lunch for this week's poll. Vote on the poll and sign up for your chance at a free lunch. [link here: if you want to enter, there's a form] If anything else, it will be fun. And yes, I really am giving away $5 (I'll put everyone's entries into a numbered list, and then use's True Random Number Generator to select the winner). Now, onto today's post.

Today, I'd like to share with you a story that my parents told me. After reading the story, you might think that there is such thing as a free lunch after all (if you're willing to ignore opportunity cost...).

Ever since my parents recently bought a new car from the Ford dealership, they have received numerous calls from telemarketers, and they have been the recipients of an inordinate amount of junk mail. Most of these calls or mailings are surveys. It turns out that Ford really wants to know what worked on my parents. Why did they buy the car? How much did they pay? What magazines do they read? What products do they buy frequently?

Obviously, this market research is trying to figure out what advertising would work best to attract more people like my parents. It makes sense to want this information, and I bet that such information would be worth buying. In fact, some of the survey companies have -- quite literally -- tried to buy the information from my parents. The trouble is that they did it wrong: One survey organization sent the survey with a $5 bill (a free lunch so to speak) and no conditions on the money.

As you can imagine, my parents like money and dislike spending an hour to fill out a survey. The rational response? Money goes in pocket, survey goes in trash. Later at Wendy's, the money buys a Spicy Chicken Sandwich with cheese, lettuce and tomato.

mmmmm... Don't those market research dollars taste good?

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