4 of the best marketing gimmicks of all time, and why they worked

by Joe Blackburn

Growing a successful brand means using marketing to position yourself so well that you’re the first thing that comes to mind for customers at the start of the buying process. Luckily there are some lessons to learn simply from looking back at the best marketing gimmicks of all time. In this article, we look at a handful of these and examine why they work, so you can use these tricks and tips in your company’s next advertising campaigns.

Table of contents

Table of Contents

What is a marketing gimmick?

A marketing gimmick is an attention-grabbing device used in advertising to help drum up interest in a product or service. It could be an advertisement, strapline or sales pitch that uses a clever, unexpected approach to make customers sit up and take notice.

Successful marketing gimmicks can often be remembered for years after the initial exposure, and they contribute to building brand awareness and recognition. As long as there’s a unique way to distinguish your product from other similar products, you can use a gimmick to stand out from the crowd.

That said, gimmicks shouldn’t become a staple of your brand as they can cause you to lose credibility with consumers if overused and insincere. The point of them is to get audiences to take note – if you’re always using them, they’ll eventually stop listening.

4 of the best marketing gimmicks of all time

If you’re looking to refine your copywriting prowess or carve out a section of the market for your brand, you can learn some tips from the masters who’ve gone before. We run through four of the best marketing gimmicks of all time, and some of the more important lessons to learn from each example:

1. Old Spice – The Man Your Man Could Smell Like (2010)

Old Spice might have been a well-known brand since the 1930s, but by the dawn of the new millennium, it was experiencing an image problem. Increasingly, the brand was associated with older men and losing business at a significant rate. So in 2010, Old Spice decided to revolutionise its advertising by investing in a TV ad called “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”.

This tongue-in-cheek approach using former football player Isaiah Mustafa meant that the company’s sales more than doubled within 30 days of the campaign launch, and more importantly, the company completely overhauled its image.

This is evidence that, even when focusing on traditional advertising media such as television, there is always space for innovation. In this instance, innovation came in the form of combining a highly complex and detailed “oner” (or single-shot scene) with an interesting personality.

As a result, the brand underwent a complete overhaul of its image, finding a new market and thriving in the short term whilst creating a stable platform from which to build in the long term.

2. Burger King – Whopper Sacrifice (2009)

The Whopper Sacrifice programme was a 2009 marketing campaign designed by Burger King, in which Facebook users had to delete ten of their friends from the platform in exchange for a free Whopper.

At the early stage of the platform, the loosest of acquaintances were considered “friends”, so plenty of people had the capacity to remove ten from their account and keep their close social circle active. Although this is a simple campaign, it was one of the first to push the boundaries in the social media space and have a significant impact.

Although the campaign was only short-lived and cost the brand 20,000 burgers, the campaign had a significant degree of short-term success. As the app notified friends when they were “sacrificed”, the campaign had ten people see it for every one person that decided to partake in the campaign.

For every Whopper the company gave away, ten people saw Burger King take a place in their notification feed. This shows the clear benefit of making marketing decisions distinct from the rest of your competitors and choosing to make marketing decisions others wouldn’t.

3. Coca Cola – Share a Coke (2014)

The “Share a Coke” campaign started in 2014 and featured the global drinks company placing people’s first names on their drinks cans. People would spend their time rifling through the options available on the shop’s shelves, looking out for their names and adding a personal touch to their purchase. In the event that someone’s name wasn’t present on the shelves, people could buy cans with their own name on them from the online can creator, albeit for a higher price than was on the shelves.

This campaign capitalised on their target market’s desire to be seen as individuals and ultimately saw a 2% uptick in sales. It also began trending on social media. Personalising an everyday item such as a drink elevates it from a purchase to an experience, giving people an element of choice and making the concept of buying a drink for a friend or partner much more novel.

Coca Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign demonstrates the power of personalisation and is an example that many other companies can take forwards in their product development and advertisement processes.

4. Vote Leave – Football predictions (2016)

In the buildup to the Brexit referendum of 2016, England and Wales were competing in the Euro 2016 football tournament in France. Where many political campaigns would see this as a distraction, the Brexit campaign run by Vote Leave chose to engage with the opportunity.

The campaign targeted football fans as one of their key demographics, running an online competition which put a £50m prize up for grabs for whoever guessed the result of every single match in the tournament. Where entrants saw a chance to win a large sum of money, the campaign had an opportunity to collect significant amounts of data.

Whatever you think of the nature of this campaign (or the Brexit vote in general), this gimmick demonstrates the benefits of thinking outside the box and tapping into the interests of your target market to get noticed. In this instance, a political campaign engaging with football increased engagement with their content, so people followed the page and saw more “Vote Leave” adverts. The data gathered also enabled them to target future online adverts more successfully.

Key takeaways

While you might not be ready to replicate some of the stunts above, you can use them to inspire you to be older in your next marketing campaign. By looking through some of the most prominent examples of marketing from the past, a few discernible traits emerge:

  • Breaking away from current trends offers a clear advantage.
  • Revisiting your target market demographics and using that to inform and reimagine your brand image can give you a fresh approach.
  • Using humour goes a long way!
  • Making yourself distinct from the rest of the field is a risk, but has the potential to draw more eyes to your products.
  • Introducing an element of engagement or personalisation makes your audience more invested in the gimmick (and brand).

Marketing gimmicks are a useful tool when used well but they can be difficult to get right, especially if you aren’t sensitive to the needs of the cultural climate or your audience. So do your research, refine your brand voice and get feedback before going ahead!

✏️ Find out more about what works and what doesn’t with a look at our rundown of 10 of the worst advertising campaigns ever!

Header image: Bradley Pisney

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