Thursday, 18 October 2012

Unblessed are the cheapskates for they shall not inherit the earth

A real Ancient Mariner experience awaits me most mornings as I arrive at Luton station. An old man acosts us all, hurrying passengers, his eyes boring into us with wild earnestness, as he tries to foist his miserable story on us. In his case, its a story that takes the form of one of those ubiquitous free newspapers. 

‘Cheap!’ he shouts, ‘totally free. You like money? Here is a free paper. Straight in the bin when you have finished it. Completely cheap.’

Every fibre in the marketing bit of my soul – and I like to think that marketing occupies only part of my soul – revolts at his patter. Because no-one likes ‘cheap’. Why, even when I was being taught German, my class learned that the word for cheap, ‘billig’, should be avoided in favour of ‘preisgünstig’, which basically means good value.

People buy value; if they can get it for less that’s great, but it’s not the price they want to be reminded of, it’s the value. You’re telling me the paper can go straight in the bin? Then why would I take it at all, even for nothing? What I put in my bin is rubbish; are you offering me more?

Maybe some people take copies but I absolutely refuse. I stalk by with my nose in the air. Well, metaphorically at least. Not so as you could tell from the outside. Marketing may not be the most admirable of professions, but it has been mine for many years and I owe it more consideration than to give into that kind of promotion.

His misguided message got me thinking about other cheap things. Airlines, for instance, which don’t call themselves ‘cheap’ but ‘low cost’. It’s an important difference: if you keep your costs down, you’re being smart, showing good husbandry or perhaps the ability to negotiate intelligently. Buying cheap, on the other hand, just means settling for less.

No wonder that Fascinating Aïda wanted to satirise that particular industry, they called their song ‘Cheap Flights’. It includes the memorable line:

Cheap flights, cheap flights, we should have gone by sea, 

There's no such fecking thing as a fecking flight for 50p

The song doesn’t name an airline though it does talk about Ireland, which for some may seem a bit of a give-away. 

At one time I relied pretty heavily on the Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair, but the more I flew on it, the less I liked it: there was the increasing sense that anything they could stick a price tag on would pretty soon be given one. What finally finished them for me was when they did away with reclining seats, as though being able to lean back was a luxury too far for a ‘low cost flight’. 

Travelling with Ryanair became the airline equivalent of catching a bus, except that I rather like buses.
Unbeatable on the price tags
The only time I enjoyed flying with Ryanair was on a trip from Belfast, when a hostess with a strong local accent announced that there were ‘sex emergency exits’ on the plane. It was only a forty-minute flight, but that was quite long enough to come up with a mind-blowing list of situations that might be classified as sex emergencies. Obviously, it helps if you have the right kind of imagination. I leave that as an exercise to yours.

So I gave up on Ryanair, despite its claim, probably justified, of being the cheapest – even once you’ve paid for the extras. But that only proves my point. They give ‘cheap’ a bad name. And they certainly they have nothing to do with good value.

Still, I mustn
’t complain about the man with the papers at the station. At least hes provided me with a few thoughts to toy with in an idle moment, and for that I’m grateful. Perhaps I should return the favour, and offer him some advice.

Why not try, I
’d like to say to him: ‘all the news you need! right here, right now, with no waiting. And – it’s free!’

Maybe it wouldn’t appeal to him. But it works a lot better for me. Though that still wouldn’t persuade me to take one of his grotty free sheets. I mean – if it’s free, what can it possibly be worth?

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