The Moral Side of the Free Mac Process

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An interesting conversation arose in the comments on the “How I Got a Mac…” post recently regarding the moral/ethical side of doing this whole process to get a free Mac, or any of the other free gifts available.

Being a person who has ethics pretty high on his priority list, this conversation intrigued me.

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A few thoughts:
Are we cheating the advertising companies out of money? Are they cheating us? If we sign up for offers with no intention whatsoever of keeping said service, is that wrong? Does the fact that the advertisers will still make a little money off of other people justify you from not making them any (if that is the case)?

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I must admit that even this many months after the fact, I don’t think I ever once considered the morality of this thing. Thinking on it now, I don’t believe that I have done anything wrong, but maybe I just haven’t considered a certain angle yet.

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Read the below excerpts of the conversation, and let us know your thoughts in the comments of this post.

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“…I have been convicted that, while legal, I’m not sure it’s moral. I signed up for these offers then immediately told them I didn’t want them anymore. I understand that these companies are not forced to advertise on NT but it just seemed a little deceptive to me.”

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“I see no moral grey area here. Most of these offers are trials. The companies just want you to sample their goods/services. Their business models are such that in a certain percentage of these trial offers people will a.) like their service enough to keep it, or b.) be too stupid and/or lazy to cancel. If you try the offers and then decide to cancel, then I don’t see any harm done. The advertising companies are getting exactly what they wanted.”

“The fact that I never had any intent on keeping or even trying a product is what bothered me.”

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“I, too, had some moral difficulty with participating in this program. However, I believe that these companies are immorally trying to deceive uneducated or unprepared individuals by making bold promises while concealing the truth in small print. These companies take the chance that a relative few (and believe me, even with all of the people doing this now, it’s still a relative few) will be able to avoid massive charges and hidden fees. I assure you, though, that many people who cannot afford to pay 29 – 69 dollars/month for some of the sponsors’ services are signing up for free trials, not canceling because they don’t realize they need to, and racking up hundreds of dollars in charges. These people probably aren’t even able to get the free MacBook Pro because they lose interest or, even more likely, complete the offers in numerical order, thus rendering their attempts null because of an inability to complete the third page. Of course, I wouldn’t say it’s O.K. to steal from these companies, regardless of their immoral tactics, but I think it’s perfectly within our moral bounds to avail ourselves of the opportunity they have given us in their attempts to cheat us out of $$$.”

View the conversation in comments #1137 and on.

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40 Responses to The Moral Side of the Free Mac Process

  1. Erik K says:

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    Morality is entirely relative to one’s set of values, so what is immoral to one may be perfectly moral to another. However, I imagine the point when most people completing this offer felt a tinge of dirtiness was when they called up the companies to cancel and were asked ‘why are you canceling?’ How many people really answered ‘because I only signed up for this to qualify for another offer.’ Odds are you probably lied to one or more of the companies when canceling, whether it was a white lie (i just dont want it), an unspoken lie (i never wanted it in the first place but im not telling you that), or a blatant lie (i cant afford it), the question is do you find lying immoral? The other side of this issue is that the companies who advertised with a shady little company offering free products (too good to be true) to subscribers would have to be complete idiots if they didn’t consider the risk of people just signing up to get the product; we can’t be sure, but they probably are making a profit with this advertising despite the customers who cancel immediately. But regardless, if you really think about it, anything can be made into the immoral, it’s just a matter of framing the argument.

  2. Matt S says:

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    Do I morally object to this process? Not at all, since we are not doing anything illegal, how is it against our morallity. The companies that work with nuitech, most likely have some amount of customers that retain their services/products. Thus, they are still making money, otherwise, how could they continue to do this, and how could nuitech stay in business? I really, can’t comprehend how someone could have a moral objection to taking advantage of this offer, but thats just my opinion.

  3. Erik K says:

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    So to my point of moral relativism, Matt S’ seems to base morality on adherence to written law. While others might consider the concept of signing up for a service with intent to immediately cancel technically legal, but possibly deceiving and thus immoral. When presented with a trial offer they might consider it the moral path to genuinely evaluate a product/service with at least the possible (if not probable) intent to purchase.

  4. Martin says:

    On Morality.
    I sleep like a baby at night.
    Remember that these companies are paying for FACE TIME. That is, time we spend looking at their web page, reading the offer, reading the terms & conditions.
    Not one of us will soon forget Onlingo, Pitney Bowes, Sirius, and so on. That is what the marketing strategem is aiming for…their products are now in our psyche whether we know it or not. If someone asked me about teeth whitening, I am almost sure to mention Smile Pro!
    Leave the moral questions for other areas of your life.
    (not to mention, the statistics will show that each of us, out of 18 offers, probably will purchase one product or use a product in the future).

  5. Matt S says:

    Eric- you are right, in this case my I base my morals on the law, because I perceive no biblical standards on the topic. However, my entire moral system is by no means based on the law. (Just want to clear that up)

  6. Ray says:

    You mention Biblical, but morals do not necessarily have to be religion based. Morality is a concept that is in everyone’s head, whether they follow a religion or not.

  7. Burn City says:

    E.K. – Good point about the “white lie” aspect. I admit I did lie to some of the operators. And when I consider the reason for that, it is because I was afraid they’d cite some bit of jargon which would disqualify me from the “completed” status I so eagerly desired. I believe that the end cannot justify the means, so perhaps I have some penance to do.

    But I still don’t think this process is wrong, for the reasons I stated on the other page (as quoted above).

  8. Kyle T. says:

    I sleep just fine. Don’t get me wrong…its not the most ethical procedure in the world, but then again, it’s just the way the world works…unfortunately.

    I don’t think the process is in any way wrong or immoral. Then again, I’m not religious at all.

  9. whitetyce says:

    Good point Martin, I was eating at Skyline earlier today and someone mentioned the South Beach Diet and I instantly thought of the online offer. These products will be burned into my mind for a very long time. When I drive past Blockbuster I think page three, first offer I did, when I see a vonage commercial same thing. These companies pay millions of dollars for commercials that support the networks that play our favorite shows. But do we feel bad if we don’t go buy the product’s, no. These companies are getting what they want weather we sign up for the offers or not. Face time brings a high dollar in todays market and we can all atest that these companies are getting alot of face time with all of us.

  10. Evan Morris says:

    I think I am going to have to agree with the majority here, that I don’t really feel that it morally wrong.

    Replying to Erik K’s comment, I actually did tell the operators what I was doing and none of them really cared. I told them how I got the link and how I looked at the trial and didn’t really need it. All of them said fine and cancelled no problem.

    Just because we’re getting something for basically free doesn’t mean it’s morally wrong. When you sign up for this site all they do is ask you to try them. I’m always interested in finding something that I might actually want to keep, but I don’t have high hopes for these trials.

    Lying to the operator is one thing, but the process by itself I believe is morally sound.

  11. KevinB says:

    Since the ethical/morality issues of the Macbook Pro offer were voiced, I too have had to consider what I was doing. My two cents (more like 2 bucks worth)…

    Question-Have you ever been in a mall and seen the chick-fil-a person handing out those delicious sample chunks? Have you even taken one with no intention of buying lunch from them at that moment or that day? Weird, but they even smile at you and seem glad you tried it. Even if you walk the opposite direction than their cash register. Hum? What if you took the nugget…walked 10 steps away and then returned it? You did not eat it nor throw it away. Just simply handed it back and said, “thanks, but I didn’t really want it to begin with…you may give this to the next person”. I don’t see anything morally or ethically wrong with that. But it would seem rather odd.

    It seems what we have here is 18 different people handing out “nugget” offerings. And in this case if I just “take” them all then I get an expensive toy from RALPH (Ralph is this guy who is BEGGING me to come into the mall…go over to the food court and try these nuggets. He made a deal with the nugget folks. He even has these “toys” available to give to those who “take” the nuggets. Wow!

    Sure they all want me to actually taste their nugget then “eat” at their counter but most know I won’t. They are smart and they even expect it. They even hired a marketing guy (lets call him Cunning) who did spreadsheets and told them so. But he also told them their overall sales would increase…even with these loss-leader give-a-ways. Again, I take all their “nuggets” and then oddly hand them back. Ralph shrugs at my shrewdness and says, “You did exactly what I asked…here is your toy”.

    Yes it may be disappointing to the chicken sandwich seller. But most of them don’t have false expectations or hopes. They have realistic hopes. I have yet to see a vendor pull his/her “nugget” in all the weeks I have followed this offer. They are making money. They are not too disapointed. I do not think it is morally or ethically wrong to play Ralphs game.

    Final question…What would it look like to do this offer “ethically” for those who are concerned about it? If it means to sign up for 18 offers with NO intent to cancel then your average subscription could run nearly $35. Multiply that by 18 and you should be prepared to spend $630/mo for your new services…or $7560 your first year! Let’s see…you got an $1800 laptop…hum…poor stewardship might be the new sin now…

    I could be rationalizing bad behavior but I really am seeking to walk an upright path.

    When their terms say, “If during the trial period you are not COMPLETELY satisfied then you may return the nugget for a full refund”…To that I say my REASON is that I was never INTENDING to be fully satisfied to start with.

    Odd perhaps…but immoral/unethical? I will seriously continue to ponder…yet sleep.

  12. kb says:

    Ok. I’ve been sitting back waiting looking at folks pontificate on the morality of this issue. The fact is that there is nothing immoral about this. PERIOD. Those offers that charge you $1 for a free 7 day trial are making mega cash because they KNOW that they’re guaranteed $1 no matter what you do. If you decide to keep their service then that’s just the cherry on top. Look at how these offers are presented. You can get “X” product for a free 30 day trial for only $6.95 shipping and handling. You order “x” product and it takes 2 weeks to get to you. Why? Because they send the package 3rd class mail to save on shipping. So they’re actually making money off of your “shipping” charges. Bottom line is that no company is going to sign up with nuitech or any other company to advertise these offers if it didn’t benefit them in some way shape or form. As long as you follow the terms and conditions of the offer and of nuitech or similar site you have NOTHING to feel bad about. Business is business.

  13. David says:

    This moral thing has intrigued me as well as I’ve returned to find out how long I should be in verification (2′nd day now). When I told my wife about this she did ask the same thing.

    The point is, a couple of the offers I have actually decided to make good on (Blockbuster and Sirius). PeoplePC killed my computer and I told them that and I’m sensitive to my computer as I’m a software consultant. I think all the others so far I cancelled without talking to a person or I told them it was going to be too much for me.

    I won’t lie when talking to a person as that’s wrong. I don’t make millions $$$ a year so most of the offers would be extreme for me to maintain, but the fact they give me a trial on it gives me the chance to choose. I also didn’t try to cancel before I got charged as I understand the terms and conditions. They made them up – not me. And if I abide by them then I am allowing them to choose the rules and I’ll go by them. If they said there was a minimum charge of $500, I wouldn’t do it.

  14. whitney says:

    Immediately after cancelling my first product–Video Professor, I felt a twinge of guilt for the path I had chosen. The sales woman continued to question my cancellation, “Well, how well do you work with powerpoint, we have this great…”
    “No, no, im really an expert in that arena…”
    “…Well, how about…”
    “No no, I really am great with computers…”
    “Then why did you sign up with us in the first place…”

    DUN DUN DUN DUNNNNN—where did this leave me? I immediately felt that (and if you’ve done the macbook offer, you know what im speaking of )rush of adrenaline that comes with the sight of a new credit, and I blatantly lied to that poor woman, making up some poor excuse about my friend needing help, and blah blah blah.

    What is it about the thought of monetary gain that can allow us to rationalize away our prior stance on what is, and what is not, alright? Why is it that I could not, in the heat of the moment, just tell her that what I was doing? Selfish gain and greed.

    While I do admit that I am probably a rare case in that I feel completely convicted for participating in this, it is not becuase of the actual process, but becuase of what I allowed the process to do to me. What I mean, is that I dont think that there is anything wrong with taking free offers, even if you dont plan on keeping it, they are offering it to you for free, so they KNOW not EVERYONE is going to keep it. But, I, unfortunately, took it a step further, shoved my morals aside, and allowed myself as I sat on the telephone for hours on end to become completely numb to my typical ethical ideals.

    If you didn’t allow this process to get the best of you, congrats. If you did, then I prompt you to question why, as I have had to…What were your motives? …Why were your morals so easily ignored?…Why are you and they not a united entitiy, impermeable to all circumstances…?

    I am grateful that I was given the oppurtunity to get this gift, but I would never, ever, do it again…It burdened my heart and mind, and that is just something that I am not willing to sacrafice again…

  15. For some of the offers I did feel just a touch deceptive. I did about 50/50 with lies/brutal honesty.

    In many cases I reported that I could not afford the service. In other cases I simply told them that I was in the running for a free laptop and that part of the requirements were that I sign up for their service.

    Most of them got very confused upon my saying that and end the call themselves.

    That being said, I learned a few things about a few of these companies that made me feel OK about it. Columbia House for example is one company that should revise its practices. Searching high and low on their site yielded no phone numbers. Logging into my account and trying to cancel that way yielded no results either. I had to Google around to find their number. Shady, if I may be so bold.

    As a matter of fact, I initially considered staying signed on for more DVSs, but decided these people were not trying to offer a service, they were trying to trick customers into commitments.

    Anyhow, if there is a exploit in a system with enough eyes it will be brought to surface. Moral or not.

  16. Chris says:

    I have battled with this since the latest new terms and conditions. It seems that this brings to light the fact the companies genuinely want more than just face time or marketing opportunities. They want actual subscribers.

    I don’t know where I stand. I am one offer away from being put through to verification. I signed up for many with absolutely no intent on keeping them even if it was a product that might be great for me. Is this unethical?

    Regarding cancelation, when asked why I was canceling service I always replied, “Personal reasons.” Which is not 100% deceptive but at the same time not 100% truthful. I wish I would have been more honest.

    In response to many other posts, just because these companies are being deceptive or trying to trick people into signing up and loosing money does not give us the right to be unethical. The fact that we pay so much more for cars then their actual costs is not completely ethical. However, it doesn’t give us the right to steal cars.

  17. Chris(another thought) says:

    I believe the answer lies in the motive of the companies. If they are content with us only trying their services or gaining our “face time” without us truly buying anything then I am fine with it. However, how will we know whether or not this is what they truly want. I believe that the new terms and conditions speak otherwise.

  18. jw says:

    To kb in post #12…

    Are you serious? They make money on the $1 trial charge and the $6.95 s/h? Technically that my be true in that the pills or whatever probably cost them pennies to produce, but I think you are forgetting the part that gets you your laptop or whatever. That pill company pays NT for your sign-up. Sometimes it is just $5-10. Sometimes it is much, much more (over $100). Fact is noone makes money off the pros. The pros make the money.

    As for the ethical dilemma, I have kept many of the offers past the trial, and still use some. It has cost me more in the long run, but it’s all good. I’ll admit I’ve abused a couple of companies in the past, but that was in the past. You have to let the offer companies make some money every know and then to keep this thing rolling. Sucks about NT, tho, anybody got any ideas on new companies?

  19. stella says:

    I did not lie at all about my cancellation reasons: Alarm system conflict with VIOP offers. CD player crapped out in car so I can’t listen to foreign language lessons. Found a better offer on video rentals. I might have even considered the video rental but I was not presented with different/cheaper subscription options until AFTER I cancelled. All these are truthful.

    All these companies used my money for weeks while I was waiting for my refunds. Some companies make the refund difficult at best to get. Others obscure terms and conditions in undecipherable oblique mumbo-jumbo.

    Yea-I have trouble sleeping at night-I’m too anxious waiting for my CC billing to roll over to the next month so I can start a new offer!

  20. Macguy says:

    For all those who are having trouble sleeping at night over thier ill gotten gain. If you have recieved your Macbook pro…it will only lead to more giult if you keep it. if you need to find someone to take your guilt…or macbook Pro off of your hands, I can do it for you. Otherwise stop whining.

  21. Guilty conciouse says:

    Where are you located macguy, if you are close to cincinnati I could drop it off at your house. What you said was right, and I already had a nice computer.

  22. Josh says:

    Guilty concious,
    Please send me an email at webmaster [at] joshclark [dot] com.

  23. MacGuy says:

    I live in Louisville which is only an hour or so away. Maybe we can make an arrangment I would love to help you aliviate your guilt.

  24. MacGuy says:

    Josh…are you weaseling in on my guilt removing ministry?

  25. Josh says:

    Perhaps. :)
    What I know is that I live in Lexington, that I’ll be traveling through Cincinnati this Friday afternoon/evening on my way to visit family in Columbus, that I would be more than willing to pay a few hundred dollars for Guilt’s Mac, and that I could really use the money (from eBay) to buy an engagement ring later this summer.

  26. guilty concious says:

    I will use the wisdom of king soloman. I will simply cut the macbook in 2 and then we can arange when you both will pick it up.

  27. Josh says:

    Lol. Is this your way of saying to forget the offer?

  28. guilty concious says:

    I did that post as a joke. Sorry guys I didn’t know you would take it serioulsy. Josh when I get my Mac I’ll throw you a few bones for some bling bling, I know how hard it is to save up for a ring. Mac guy when I get my Mac I’ll fondly remember the humorous post you left. Hope this leaves all satisified.

  29. John says:

    I had no idea my one comment would start such a stir. I’ve not been here in awhile so I was surprised (and glad) to see this discussion. I must say that I agree with Whitney (March 2) in that the real issue is how I found myself laying aside my morals to get a hunk of plastic and what it did to me internally. For example, I completed the offers on a Saturday and attended my church on Sunday. I could not concentrate or think of anything but these offers and if my identity had been stolen. The fact that this consumed my thoughts and prevented me from worshiping convinced me that it was not a God-honoring process. For those of us who are Christians whether or not something motivates us to honor the Lord or increases our intimacy with Him should be our true “moral” standard. This process did neither for me and actually hindered me in my relationship with the Lord.

    I realize that each person has a different moral compass inside them and some may feel I’ve completely lost my mind. I challenge you to truly examine whether this process has made you a better person or just a person with more stuff.

    Again, I’m not here to try and change your mind. We may respectfully agree to disagree but I hope that you at least try and look at this from a different angle.

    Josh, thanks for continuing this discussion!

  30. Du says:

    I have just received my MacBook Pro. It was quite an exciting time in my house. My wife and I have had the discussion about whether this was right. We both agree that the companies that advertise on the free gift websites know that people are going to try their product/services and cancel. They also realize that most people are not going to be diligent and cancel their “free trial” offers in time. While canceling some of my offers the customer service reps would comment about the online offers. It is understood that people are going to do this. I would have never, and I do mean never, tried Smile Pro, Relastin, Vioderm, or a majority of the other offers that I was presented with. However, I did get some books for my younger daughter, which she was overjoyed with. All of the companies I dealt with defiantly made money on me. The companies make money on the S/H they charge. The biggest thing these companies profit from though is the on going free advertising. I talk about the crazy things I had to sign up for to receive my MacBook Pro and those companies get advertising. Let alone the fact that now I have them in my head and if somebody mentions teeth whitening, wrinkle cream, mail order wine, or free online offers. I am going to share my story about my MacBook Pro. I believe I did just what was planned for by the advertising and promotional people at these companies. I tried their products, like I was asked and then was rewarded for letting them get into my life, house, and mind.

  31. Michael says:

    Think of it like this. Someone
    walks into some stores and signs up for some sort of store club where you get products and get a prize.. You decide you don’t like that shirt you just got from one of those stores and decide to return it. You could end up liking the product. The advertisers know you won’t keep some. But, they are still getting a good chance at a customer. So, think of it like that.

  32. chase2 says:

    shoot, it’s marketing. it aint nothin to lose sleep over.

  33. dremac says:

    I once heard that if you are questioning whether or not you’re taking advantage of someone…you have to ask one question. Is the person or in this case “the company” being caused misfortune or real pain as a result of your action? I’ve searched my heart hard, and I truly believe that this is not the case.

  34. Jeff says:

    Yes, it was only after my $1,000 gift card (via nuitech) arrived today that I gave any consideration to the moral question…

    Technically I’m not scamming anyone, or doing wrong to any of the companies involved. Most of the offers that I cancelled immediately were with companies which deliberately offer an inferior product — The CompleteHome chain of sites, Advantage Language and Onlingo, VideoProfessor — there’s no deceit in cancelling. The two offers I signed up for which were legitimate companies offering a good product — Blockbuster and the New York times — I did sincerely “try out” for the full trial period before cancelling.

    But on the other hand, if (coming from a Christian POV) morality is foremost a matter of the heart rather than deeds . . . then the process of feeling like I’m “getting something for nothing” or I’m “outsmarting scammers” appeals only to my own greed and pride and desire to feel independent . . . the very words “Free Gift” are disappointing because this isn’t really a gift from some other person but just something I generated by being more clever than most people.

    So while I don’t think I’ve done anything unethical — and I’m still going to enjoy what I got — I don’t plan on going after more free stuff anytime soon, because it appeals to the darker tendencies of my soul rather than the lighter ones….

  35. Jeff says:

    “Friend of Josh”‘s comment above is right too — doing this showed me just how shady some companies are. Like trying to find PeoplePC’s mailing address on their website. (I’d rather spend a few cents on a stamp than waste time on the phone). I had to hunt down a *competitor’s* website in another state to get that information.

  36. Hey, I do not have a mac yet.. but my older brother does which I wanted one before he did and he told me about how they are pointless and to stick with Microsoft (lame) and now I have a chance to get one for around $100…let me see…yeah…I have basically payed my dues..dealing with Microsoft and of course the internet..all of those ads..this is my way of getting back at the advertisement business. I think sense we deal with them…they should deal with us…so is it moral? In my head..Yes…

    erics little bro

  37. Jared says:

    I’m cool with it.

  38. acoffeygirl says:

    This is a very interesting question. I’ve read through the comments here, and I think for me it comes down to the expectations the companies have. I truly do not believe that these companies expect that everyone will keep their offers. They are hoping that some will. For me, I just completed the offers for the MBP, and of the 10 offers I’m keeping a couple of them, because they are actually valuable to me and I’ll use them.

    These companies advertise on these sites, and I really don’t think that they expect that an individual will keep all 10 or so offers, but they are hoping that their offer will be the one that catches the person’s attention and is a good deal.

    I’m not sure if that makes sense, but I guess…because I’ve actually kept a couple, I feel ok about the situation.

  39. David Arel says:

    This is in no means illegal or unethical, and we are scamming no one. Companies are certainly benefitting from this idea, if they were not they would retire from it. These companies are not stupid. They know very well that we as consumers have no intention to keep any offers we sign up for, and that our one and only goal is to receive our free product. For what I have gathered from most who have completed these offers, they usually end up keeping one or two.

    If you have a guilty conscience about this, then don’t participate, but there is no need to pass your guilt on to others.


  40. CSLewis says:

    Hmmm, I started the process in February of 2007. I played it safe got my 42″ Panasonic, Ipod Nano, and a wireless router; then cashed out. I couldn’t think of anything else I wanted or needed. Ethically speaking, I went into it knowing I would cancel just about everything. On the other hand, I felt that if I found a product for a great deal and could use it, I’d keep it. . . and I did. I gave Disney books to my little brother. I guess the question at hand is whose responsibility is it to get you to fully try and commit to a product? The seller or the buyer. If the product is a great deal and it is marketed well, then there is a good possibility I’ll hold on to it. There in lies the equalizing factor of capitalism. An amoral rule of “catch me if you can”, where the marketer tries to make the savvy patron so enticed that he/she would part with his/her money in order to try the service or product. To insist that one should not enter into one of these gift offers in order to get the “big gift” doesn’t make sense, since that is the paradigm the marketers use to draw in would be participants. I think the most pertinent question is how long does the marketers expect the trial periods to last for. If they say you can cancel, risk free, in a certain period of time then that is the contract. Pure and simple. If they are looking to not loose money then the marketers need to extend the trial periods to cover the cost of possible cancellations and returns. So then, the responsibility lies greatly with the marketers who have defined the parameters of the gift-trial contracts.

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