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In marketing language, a gimmick is a unique or quirky special feature that makes something "stand out" from its contemporaries. However, the special feature is typically thought to be of little relevance or use. Thus, a gimmick is a special feature for the sake of having a special feature. It began, however, as a slang term for something that a con artist or magician had his assistant manipulate to make appearances different from reality. Such things as the manipulating of a gaming wheel led to the idea of a "gimmick" being used. Musicians often use gimmicks such as Slash's top hat, Angus Young's schoolboy uniform and Deadmau5's mouse helmet.
In marketing, product gimmicks are sometimes considered mere novelties, and not really that relevant to the product's functioning, sometimes even earning negative connotations. However, some seemingly trivial gimmicks of the past have evolved into useful, permanent features. According to the OED, the word is first attested in 1926, defined in the Wise-Crack Dictionary by Main and Grant as "a device used for making a fair game crooked".
Finding a successful gimmick for an otherwise mundane product is often an important part of the marketing process. For example, toothbrushes are often given various gimmicks, such as bright colors, easy-grip handles, or color-changing bristles so they appear more exciting to consumers. This is often done when trying to appeal to children or excitable adults, who often get more excited about the gimmick than the product. Electronic toys and hand-held devices are often appealing because of a gimmick that they offer.
Major product features which are poorly designed become known as gimmicks to the product users. Plastic devices often suffer from weak structural components or fragile construction, leading to deforming and cracking of the over-strained and poorly engineered mechanisms. This leaves the owner with the basic functions of the item and the gimmick disabled or, in the case of very cheaply produced products, the gimmick broken completely from the main body of the item.
- Websters Unabridged New International Dictionary of the English Language, 2nd ed. 1943, p. 1058