A “gimmick” is a novel device or idea designed primarily to attract attention or increase appeal, but often with little intrinsic value. When applied to retail marketing, it is a unique or quirky feature designed to make a product or service “stand out” from its competitors.
We don’t know where “gimmick” came from. Etymologists suggest it emerged in the US in the early 1900s. It first appeared in American newspapers in the 1910s and 1920s.
The Oxford Dictionary suggests that it may have originally been a slang term for something that a con artist or magician used to make appearances different from reality and gradually changed its meaning to refer to any “piece of magicians’ apparatus.” Another possible origin is that it may have been used at gaming tables, where it came to refer to “a device used for making a fair game crooked.”
In marketing, the use of gimmicks can be an important part of the sales promotions effort. However, finding a successful gimmick for an otherwise mundane product can be challenging, although toys included in cereal boxes are popular.
Some are easy and attractive. For example, toothbrushes are often given certain gimmicks, such as bright colors, easy-grip handles, or color-changing bristles so they appear more interesting to consumers, especially children. Musicians often adopt visual gimmicks that do not affect their music, such as dyed hair, odd clothes, and so on.
A useful gimmick is novel packaging, such as a jam or coffee jar that can be reused as a drinking mug or storage container.
However, poorly designed items often have poorly designed gimmicks, both of which break after little use, making consumers unhappy.
Some gimmicks break the company that introduced them. In 1992, the British division of The Hoover Company launched a disastrous promotional campaign which promised free airline tickets to purchasers of its appliances. The division lost £50 million as a result.
Color gimmicks are interesting. I don’t mind orange hair and hot pink toothbrushes are fun. But, being of Scottish descent, get that plastic toy out of the cereal and put back the cereal it displaced!