Lock the doors. Now secure yourself to a chair with duct tape. Tell friends and loved ones that if you break free they are to shoot you with an elephant tranquilizer.

I say this for your own safety. The words I am about to discuss will make you do things you don’t want to do. Indeed, they already have.

It is my hope that a careful discussion in a controlled environment under the guidance of a trained professional will free you from their insidious influence.

Ready? Here we go.

  • Free
  • Sale Price
  • New and improved
  • Special offer
  • Hurry, sale ends tomorrow
  • You could be a winner!

How are you feeling? Has the peace and contentment you were experiencing just moments ago given way to a sudden sense of urgency? Has your resolve to stop using your charge cards melted like a snowball in the sun? Are you ready to fight traffic, crowds, and mall intercept interviewers to save $5 on something you weren’t even thinking of buying?

That, my friends, is the power of those words. I know. I’m an advertising copywriter. I use them every day in the practice of my craft. When all else fails, these words never fail. They resonate like thunder at the core of the “consumer purchase decision,” making intelligent people get up at 5 a.m. to stand in line for a free toaster oven.

                     “Human beings seem to have an infinite capacity for acting against their own self-interest."

And that’s the irony. People think advertising is some vast conspiracy of mind control where scheming marketers influence consumers through elaborate techniques of subconscious suggestion. Remember the liquor brand that was supposed to be hiding the word “sex” in the ice cubes? Or the movie theaters that were flashing “Eat more popcorn” during the film at speeds the conscious mind couldn’t register?

Never happened. Waaaaay too much work. And why bother? Just say “Free” and get out of the way before you’re trampled by the mob.

It’s almost too easy. And that’s why I’m writing this – to give you, the hapless consumer, a fighting chance. Here, for the first time, I intend to reveal the shocking truth behind these words so that you will never again be seduced by their siren call. Why? I’m just that kind of guy.

Ready? Here we go.

Free We'll build the price of what's "free" into something else so you think you got the best of us while we're getting the best of you. Fair enough?
Sale Price We overpriced this a little too much so we're overpricing it a little less. 
New and Improved We made a difference that makes no difference so we can charge you a "new and improved" price. 
Special Offer We're stuck with 900 palettes of this stuff in a warehouse in Passaic, New Jersey. Help us out here.
Hurry, sale ends tomorrow But if you still want the stuff, you can buy it at the sale that "starts today."
You could be a winner You have never won anything in your life and you never will, so just give us your money and go home.

This is the sad truth, my friends. There are no deals. The deck is stacked against you. Tie goes to the dealer. What’s even sadder is that you know all this. And yet, and yet…human beings seem to have an infinite capacity for acting against their own self-interest. That’s why the bowl with the chips and dips is always gone long before the vegetable platter has even been touched. (Except in California.)

The only solution is a complete reprogramming of the mind. Your conditioned reaction to these words must be replaced by different, negative associations, so that instead of being attracted you are repulsed. For instance, look at the list below. Clip it out. Carry it with you and refer to it often until the phrase “Clearance Sale” makes you physically ill.

Free Cod liver oil
Sale Price Shingles
New and Improved Your mother-in-law
Special Offer Root canal
Hurry, sale ends tomorrow Income taxes
You could be a winner! Lima beans

So when you hear this:
“Buy one pair of pants and get the second one free at this great sale price at our new and improved store where a special offer includes a Grand Prize drawing for a week at Disney World! Hurry, sale ends tomorrow. You could be a winner!"

You’ll think this:
“Buy one pair of pants and drink cod liver oil with your mother-in-law while you get shingles, have a root canal, and pay your income taxes! Then go eat lima beans!"

There, now you’re cured, right? When you unlock the doors and unwrap the duct tape you’re not going to rush right down to that sale where the first 100 people get a free flashlight.

Are you? Are you?

You are, aren’t you?

Well, if you really can’t help yourself…pick up one for me. You can never have too many flashlights. 

John Cadley is a freelance writer and advertising executive selling word widgets in Syracuse, New York.