Feb 05

I’ve explored the power of free in the context of tattoos before, and anyone who saw last years’ comedy Bridesmaids no doubt laughed at this particularly memorable scene. But this story out of the Netherlands caught me a little off guard just the same. First, consider what you would do for a year’s worth of free movie tickets. Or if you like live music, tickets to your favorite venue. Would you pay $200? Would you eat a bag of (nonpoisonous) insects?

Well, the Unlimited Movies Cinema in the Netherlands has offered moviegoers the opportunity to see free movies for an entire year—all they have to do is get the theater’s logo (a dog-like creature flying under a banner of unfurled film reel) tattooed on their body (for pictures, check this page out). The offer is part of a promotion for the latest movie in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series.

I developed an appreciation for the surprising power of FREE! from the experiments my colleagues and I conducted on how people respond to things when their cost is zero (included in Predictably Irrational). For instance, when we set up a temporary candy stand and sold mouthwatering Lindt truffles (which usually cost around 50 cents) for 15 cents and ho-hum Hershey Kisses for 1 cent, 73% of the chocolate-lovers who stopped by made the rational decision and chose the superior and highly discounted Lindt truffles. But when we lowered the price by 1 cent for each item—resulting in a cost of 14 cents and 0 cents respectively—suddenly demand reversed and 69% of consumers chose the free Kisses.

The power zero exercises over people’s choice in chocolate nicely demonstrates the irrational draw of free things, but it’s still difficult to know what to make of people getting a cinema logo (and not the most aesthetically pleasing one at that) permanently inked on their body for a single year of free movies.  While according to the story, only 18 people have elected to exchange skin space for free movies, one has to ask whether the wonders of free will ever cease…