The cost of a free lunch

In front of the townhouse, there were two drawers, one stacked on top of the other, wrapped with bright, cartoon, decals. You couldn’t miss it. As if anticipating the question as you passed by, there was a piece of paper confirming, “Free.”

When I was a child, I constantly heard the phrase, “There is no free lunch.” As someone working in marketing, I’m also very wary of free—usually that means giving your data away or trading permission for a company to sell you something. 

Timeshare presentations and free casino trips are the most obvious examples of this. You’ll need to figure out how to withstand the psychological techniques they use to persuade people to pay money. There’s a reason those trips are free—because the trips are not the actual product, the trip is lead generation. Businesses monetize lead generation indirectly from sales of their real products. 

But in this case, there were free, very cool, drawers. The drawers were free because it would be cheaper, and more convenient, for the residents to put it outside of their house than to call for garbage removal or to haul it out themselves. Why not just put it out and have someone who needed it pick it up? 

If you passed by the townhouse half an hour later, you would see a woman casually examining the drawers and making a phone call. I don’t know how much it would cost her to transport the drawers, but it would at least cost time or some travel expense. 

It was possible, of course, that her car was nearby, and she was just about to return home. Then, the only “cost” would be moving the drawers into the car and making space in her home. 

A free lunch, if I’ve ever seen one.

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