Marketing strategies – gimmick or innovation?

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With so many different creative tools available to marketers today, it’s often hotly debated which of these techniques are genuine innovations and which mere gimmicks, and whether indeed that even matters. People also frequently argue about which tactics can have a real impact on a brand, and which could be actively harmful.

For some, the difference between ‘gimmick’ and ‘innovation’ is purely academic. After all, both can potentially be effective, although arguably innovation is considered to have more integrity, less potential for failure and a lower risk of damaging a brand.

However, some tools which could be dismissed as ‘just gimmicks’ have nonetheless breathed life into otherwise frankly fairly dull brands. And even certain highly respected, well-established names have been ‘accused’ of ‘gimmickry’ – step forward Apple and its iPhone…

Clever, appropriate use of gimmicks within a marketing strategy can undoubtedly have an impact. Well-conceived names, original forms of advertising, eye-catching store displays, and creative logos could all be deemed promotional gimmickry.

What are the differences between gimmicks and innovation?

Innovations are probably best described as new ideas which create or improve a way of meeting a societal need, and are invariably genuinely new, without being about newness for the sake of it.

When Coors produced beer cans with a special ink which turned the label blue when the can became a particular temperature, this could be classed as a gimmick rather than a piece of genuine innovation, because the way the beer was produced, experienced and stored did not change.

In contrast, when compressed deodorant cans were first launched, containing the same volume of product as smaller tins, this was innovative because significantly less aluminium was used, and transport and storage costs were reduced.

A genuine innovation (for example, the smartphone) can enhance the user’s life, be disruptive and create ripples across society.

Differing purposes

Gimmicks are more about driving sales and gaining short-term attention, while innovation focuses more widely on progress. The latter works best when people from across teams, businesses and industry sectors come together to collaborate.

Using gimmickry with caution

Take care that any gimmicks you adopt don’t end up doing your brand more harm than good.

Competitions, for example, need specific instructions and a content filter. Hashtags should also be used with great caution. If you’re using newsjacking (in other words aligning a brand with a breaking news story to generate exposure) be sure you don’t end up accused of plagiarising or piggy-backing.

Guerrilla marketing, a technique where the focus is on low-cost, unconventional tactics for maximum results, needs very careful consideration. So, too, do the use of clickbait articles and any mention of a ‘secret’ in your promotion, since both of these can leave people feeling disappointed.

In conclusion, don’t be afraid to experiment as part of your marketing strategy. Psychology and creativity are, of course, key to marketing and advertising. But any strategy, whether you call it gimmick or innovation, has to be in the best interests of your brand and users.

Sometimes, the best gimmick is no gimmick at all: just selling a quality product simply and for a fair price.