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(Not so) Free Chips Ahoy Cookies

Nabisco took out a full page in a recent Sunday coupon insert promoting a free package of Chips Ahoy cookies. What they were asking people to do was to visit their Facebook page, and there they could download a coupon for a free package of cookies.

That is not such an unusual offer. Last year, TGI Friday gave away free hamburgers if you became a fan of theirs on Facebook.

What’s different about this offer is buried in the fine print, and not even in that section of red words at the bottom of the ad.


So the offer is not really what the headline promises, nor even what the coupon at the bottom of the ad suggests in the larger print. The offer is really:

1. Buy a gallon of milk.
2. Buy a package of Nabisco cookies.
3. Become a fan of our cookies on Facebook.
4. Then and only then, get a free package of cookies.

The Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines on the use of the word “free” say:

“When making “Free” or similar offers all the terms, conditions and obligations upon which receipt and retention of the “Free” item are contingent should be set forth clearly and conspicuously at the outset of the offer so as to leave no reasonable probability that the terms of the offer might be misunderstood. Stated differently, all of the terms, conditions and obligations should appear in close conjunction with the offer of “Free” merchandise or service. For example, disclosure of the terms of the offer set forth in a footnote of an advertisement to which reference is made by an asterisk or other symbol placed next to the offer, is not regarded as making disclosure at the outset. ”

Will advertisers EVER learn to play it straight (and follow the rules) and not lead consumers to believe they are offering something for free with no additional purchase necessary, when in fact there are many strings?

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11 thoughts on “(Not so) Free Chips Ahoy Cookies”

  1. Maybe they’ll learn when the stores stop carrying their cookies, because the stores are going to get tired of restocking these packages once customers get the the checkout and then figuring out this sham.

  2. What is the marketing definition of “free” anyway? Gets your attention? I’d like to know because when I’m trying to give some children ice cream for “free” they shouldn’t have to expect me whispering, “Details may apply,” very quickly like on the radio.
    I ask because it appears many advertisements such as this one are most likely to appeal to children and there is no easy to explain to little Richard the definition of “free” if our children see this. No one will believe us what free means if this continues. Then again, what is free in today’s world?

    Edgar replies: The post above has been amended to included a portion of the FTC’s guidance on the use of the word “free.”

  3. This is just another version of bundling products a trend that started years ago. We are all familar with the process – you get a dollar off or something free if you buy a certain amount of other products. I just toss those coupons out. This is just the same old.

  4. This is why I hate buying from companies….all they do is screw you over.
    Us, the consumer should be the ones making rules for them to follow…rules such as No misleading advertising, no lying, no fine print, no additional rules, ect, ect

  5. This is a stupid offer. At one of the stores I shop at regularly, they have buy one get one free sales on products all the time. The rotation is predictable and goes around like every 4 or 5 weeks. BOGO cookies all the time.

  6. @ bogofree: Several years ago when I was in college one local grocery store tried something even better. The coupon from their circular said BOGO on Doritos if you spent $10 on other groceries, but then added “Selected Varieties” after that. This store was known for using that phrase on most items that were on sale. (If they didn’t, typically the item was conveniently ‘out of stock’ that week, but I digress…) They NEVER labeled which flavor of chips were part of the offer. So after buying $10 worth of other items, when you got to the register you might find out that you STILL didn’t get the free bag of chips.

  7. It’s interesting that the FTC takes the time to specifically forbid putting conditions in the fine print on “Free” offers, and yet that is what we usually see in ads.

  8. if all this buying is required, where does facebook come in? did facebook pay nabisco as a sponsor of this ad? and like jeff said in the above comment, most stores usually have a buy one get one offer.

  9. lastly, i stopped looking at these offers years ago. it’s the same as the black friday, “minimum 2 televisions per store” scam chain stores pull to bring you in. out of 800 people on that line, 2 will get the tv that is advertised in large print on the cover of the flyer ad. wow.

    ALL of these offers are conditional. why not just have a loyalty program instead of having offers that tarnish your company’s image?

  10. It always seemed to me that free should mean that there is some way to get the product without any cost or strings attached. however, I realize that giving something away for free may not include shipping. Fine–charge minimal shipping (not so much that it makes up for the loss.) Also, I should be able to walk up to your factory and simply take my free product–and I understand not being able to take more than 1…so I may have to give information to confirm who I am.

    This scam? Bad enough that you have to buy milk, but you also have to buy the product first? Where’s the website to file a complaint about this deception?

  11. Hey! It’s how “government” works. Laws are made to give the appearance of being consumer friendly, but actually are crafted with loopholes you can drive a truck through. Remember the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance law? Remamber what changed? Lobbyists weren’t even slowed down, much less prohibited.

    We still have the best “government” money can buy.

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