freesampleWe see it all the time- “Click here for a free sample!” – “Sign up to receive a free sample!” What used to be tables in grocery stores with bite-sized portions of food has now become the latest means of lead generation, a type of internet marketing where advertisements are directed at consumers based on organic or semi-organic information such as search engine results, personal information given to a third party, or referrals from existing customers.
A recent visit to popular sample site advertised a free sample of NeilMed Sinus Rinse. Included with the link to redeem the sample came a list of instructions:
Instructions:1. Press Click to Redeem.
2. Click Like in the top right.
3. Press the link to request your sample.
4. Fill out your information and the short survey.
5. Wait until the video ends, click the Done button that appears.

Immediately noticeable are the requirement to “like” the product on Facebook, turning the consumer into a de facto billboard for the product, and multiple links one must go through, each bringing the consumer to a different site, all of whom store the consumer’s information. What consumers may or may not be aware of is that this “short survey” actually brings the consumer to yet another site – the site that benefits most. Each answer prompts a different question based on the previous answer, allowing the site to create a profile of the consumer. The site then sell’s the consumer’s personal information along with the profile they’ve created to interested companies looking to direct advertisements towards those most likely to buy their products – in other words, those meeting the criteria of the survey these consumers filled out.
However ethical lead generation may be, what’s not ethical is the practice of advertising free samples for the purpose of lead generation without ever delivering the samples themselves. Several experiments with following the procedure to obtain a free sample of Tide all failed to deliver the actual sample, while the multiple companies involved no doubt benefited (or believed they did) from the information we supplied.