When you hear the word incentives what does it conjure in your mind? Expectation? Suspicion? Dread? (like a drill sargeant's promise to "give you Incentive?")
Generally speaking, an incentive is something you want isn't it? Something that will stimulate you to do certain things in order to get it.
Sometimes those things can be difficult, sometimes not.
And we describe an individual who works hard and takes independent (sometimes creative) action as having incentive, in this way considered a noble quality.
Reacting to an incentive in the form of a free offer with suspicion is fine, no
one should try anything without research. But to reject it merely because it is free,
and that "can't be a good thing" is a mistake in my opinion, especially given the new marketing landscape.
As a merchant, you already know the value of incentives. As a consumer you certainly know the value. I'm not a fan of simplistic reasoning, but the saying "nothing is free" ("no such thing as a free lunch", etc.) is true. The question is, what is the price?
The price, in this case, is and should be to build reciprocity. Reciprocity comes from trust. The philosophy is that at some point you will be so impressed with the gifts that you'll want to try a purchase (i.e. reciprocate).
If what is offered for free "sounds too good to be true", analyze what the terms are before dismissing it out of hand; if reciprocity is the goal, then the free offer should have significant value and there should be no further stated or implied obligation. Remember, you've got to be impressed enough to arrive at a point where you want to make a purchase; when that time comes it should be just as transparent as all the previous transactions.
Eben Pagan, a successful information marketer with a long-standing reputation, gives away some of his best information material and advises other marketers to do so as well. It's part of his "moving the free line" philosophy.
So that's one interpretation of "free" that I hope will assume its rightful place over the negative connotation. And there should always be ways to tell that the source is valid. Thankfully those ways are becoming more easily identified, and a complete composite can be assembled (even weeding out the "false negatives").
Nothing is free, but you can get something for nothing.