How to Pull off a Gimmick

By: Shama Hyder

This post has been inspired by Seth Godin’s recent take on gimmicks. So, what’s a gimmick really? It’s a stunt that gets (or is supposed to get) people talking. It’s red apple sales, sweepstakes galore, and more recently-Starbucks driving cars around major cities with magnetic coffee cups that look like they are falling. People see the cup and come rushing to warn the driver. In return, they get a gift certificate for 5 bucks …and the truth.

While gimmicks may work well in the retail world, they seldom fly when it comes to service firms. Service is built on reputation, and gimmicks hurt that to some extent. So what can service providers do to get people talking but not be seen as "gimmicky" at the same time?

Seth mentions how toll free numbers in the 60’s were considered gimmicks. So were banks being open on Sundays. What were initially seen as ways to inflate customer base, actually turned out to serve customers. That’s the first way to pull of a gimmick…

1) Do something to IMPROVE service- Sure, people may brand it a gimmick at first glance. But eventually it will be seen as an improvement in service. One good example is Dr. Jay Parkinson. He calls himself a small town doctor with the newest technology. He only makes house calls, and you have to apply to be his patient. What a gimmick! Or…is it?

2) It must be a win-win- You have to increase profits and your clients have to be happier/better served. If either side looses, it’s not a gimmick. It’s a loss. Many Attorneys and law firms are now making the switch from a hourly rate to flat fees. Some may say it’s a complete gimmick to gain clients during a faltering economy. But clients of these firms are seeming to say otherwise. Here is one firm going this route.

3) It has to be different- It’s not really a gimmick if people expect it already. Adding a 1800 number is no longer a gimmick, neither is replying to clients within a 24 hour time frame. It has to be an unique attention getter. A couple of years ago I read about a firm who hired a "Chief Happiness Officer" to make sure their employees were happy. A gimmick to get publicity? Perhaps. But last I heard, the company didn’t have any vacancies.

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  • Afzal Khan

    Hello Shama,

    It’s always great to read your posts & I enjoy your articles a lot. In regard to Gimmicks I would say for service oriented companies gimmicks are real destroyer & they need to refrain themselves from all such issues as much as possible.

    But to retail companies “Gimmick” is the key element which grab customers attraction & trigger them to try their products.

    It all depend on Organisation services & their market.

    I would request you to write something about industries which are in IT Marketing services about how they create their brand online.


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  • Shama

    Hi Afzal,

    Glad you found it useful! I will definitely do a piece on IT Marketing soon. Keep a lookout!

  • Philippa Kennealy

    I believe firmly that Dr Jay Parkinson’s model of providing healthcare goes beyond a gimmick and represents real ice cream, rather than meatballs with some nice goop on top.

    He is redesigning the delivery of healthcare to a group of patients he is actively targeting, using not only contemporary marketing tactics (that happen to be relevant and appropriate for his target market’s age group), but a different delivery system for his services. One indication of this is the attacks to which he has been subjected by the medical establishment seeking to cling to the meatball approach!

    Wish he wasn’t so darn hard to get hold of as I’d love to do a podcast interview with him!

  • Shama


    So nice to see you here! = )

    I do hope you get a chance to interview him. That would be fantastic! I Is he on FB?

  • Heather Juma

    Hi Shama-this is really interesting, reading this post reminds me that we all need to be creative with our marketing to really stand out. Thanks again for the insights. You always have such “fresh” ideas.

    Heather Juma
    Educating & Empowering Women to Create 6 Figure Incomes