When Free Is $99

If you’ve not moved or bought a house recently, you are probably unfamiliar with the deluge of mail you receive for everything from supplemental mortgage insurance to yard services to security systems. The last time I bought a new place was in 1985 when it must have been a lot more difficult to pull together all the names and addresses of those people filing deeds or getting new mortgages. Apparently, it isn’t today.

One of the offers that showed up in the mailbox on Monday came from…well…I actually am not really sure from whom it came since there wasn’t a return address. It says it wants to welcome me to the neighborhood with a FREE OFFER! Of course, nothing in this world is free and this offer isn’t any different. The “free” security system will be installed with a $99 customer installation charge and the payment of $28 a month for monitoring. The free offer will only cost $435 the first year, and you have to sign a three-year agreement. Nice, right?  The fine print, which takes up a third of the second page, also mentions that labor charges might apply and that there are additional fees for various monitoring services beyond the basic. There are also limits on how many sensors you can get if your home isn’t prewired. Of course, it also comes with a $100 Visa gift card, so I got that working for me, which is nice.

This is yet another example of shady marketing. Sure, it’s a free offer in that the offer is free. The alarm and monitoring will run you thousands of dollars. The company behind it is called Protect Your Home and out of the 63 reviews for one location on Yelp, 59 are one-star reviews. There are complaints about being lied to by technicians, missed appointments, non-existent customer service, and even forged signatures. The BBB shows 1,630 complaints in the last three years. One can’t help but wonder why ADT, for whom they are an authorized reseller, doesn’t monitor how their brand is being marketed and serviced.

Trust is everything in marketing these days. A lot of fine print, unless it’s the sort of regulatory stuff the government makes you write as in a drug ad, is generally not a good indicator of trustworthiness. “Free” should really be free or the word should not be used. It sets an expectation which this company clearly doesn’t come close to meeting when the offer is broken down in detail. Honest marketing is one of the first steps to happy, satisfied, long-term customers. Beginning any relationship with a lie or half-truth really isn’t, is it?

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