Let’s start with a definition.

Gimmick [‘gim-ik] noun – an ingenious or novel device, scheme, or stratagem, especially one designed to attract attention or increase appeal.

Gimmick is also often associated with deception. I don’t recommend deception, but I do recommend doing whatever it takes to attract attention and increase appeal. However, your “gimmick” must be authentic.

It’s totally cool to have a truly outstanding “something out of the ordinary” quality to what you do or how you do what you do to create your art. For example, my jewelry line is made from construction site debris, waste materials, and found objects. AND my process includes only hand tools. No fossil fuels are used to create my work. In fact, I converted an old Singer Sewing Machine Foot Treadle to do my grinding and sanding. That is a gimmick! My jewelry is hand AND foot made! However, my desire was to create a message about environmental issues. It’s an authentic message that happens to also be a gimmick.

The main goal of creating a gimmick is to stand out from your competitors. Some of the best artists in the world were only well-known because of their “gimmick”. One might even consider entire art movements to be gimmicks. Trying to stand out or even rebel against the norms of their day, artists experimented, went against the grain, and out popped Fauvism and Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Supremativism, Constructivism, Impressionism, and my sometimes favorites Dada and Surrealism. The list goes on and on, but I think you get the message: change the underpinning just enough and people will want to be a part of this new expression and collect this unique object of art.

And whatever is old can be new again. What techniques or tools can you bring into your studios that will add a new flavor or distinction? Whatever you do, there is likely a way to enhance the finishes, dimensions, or surfaces of your work in such a way as to bring a new distinction. The wheel was invented, but all the ways you can apply a wheel to our everyday life continues to foster new and valued products. What can you invent or what new applications can you experiment with to give yourself some “wow” factor?

Why it matters

In the world of increasingly short-attention spans in the marketplace these days, being able to be a brighter and shinier object is important. Standing out from the crowd with a strong USP (Unique Selling Proposition – sometimes a gimmick) will make a big difference. When someone is beginning the Buyer’s Journey with you, the one thing that will keep them moving along the path with the least amount of resistance is their sense of pride in being associated with the “story”, the “cool factor” or even the gimmick.

People want to purchase something that they feel is special. This is even more true when they are buying hand-made. They need to be able, in a few words, to tell friends and family all about this amazing thing. A big part of the joy of ownership is having a cool wow-factor story to tell about the work. Can your buyer’s do that? Can you do that? Can you be concise and make someone go, “wow, that’s so cool.”?

For example, most photographers are now offering their images on metal. Aluminum was a great “gimmick” for quite a while. A show stopper. A conversation starter. Nowadays, it’s become ordinary – it’s losing it’s shine. Four or five years ago, the story was a solid “wow” for customers. They were excited by this new idea. A buyer could have something that very few others would have.

And the story, the wow-factor, was easy for you and your buyers to share, “It’s printed onto metal!” Never underestimate the power that people get by being in the early adopter roles. (Think long lines for new iPhones!)

It was an exciting time for photographers, too, who began to capture images that were especially harmonious with this new surface. Printing on metal is now ubiquitous. People can print their own pics while shopping at Costco.

New opportunities continue to arise. I have seen painters printing on metal these days. They like the “finish” better than paper or canvas. For the time being, they are standing out from their own crowd, but if too many others join the trend, it will once again become “ordinary” over time.

Keeping with the theme of new and “wow”, there is now a movement towards printing on wood. It’s picking up steam. Soon to be ordinary, of course. But you might want to check it out.

It’s a balancing act

The only thing anyone can rely on for the long-term is being exceptional and spectacular. Every piece of art you complete and however you present it, must have great appeal. When you have the foundations of good art, little gimmicks here and there can certainly help boost your appeal.

Earlier this year, I did a website review and consultation for a ceramic artist who was creating tall, paper-thin wheel-thrown “perfect” vessels and then throwing them against the wall of her studio. She liked to say that they were “twice thrown ceramic abstracts”. It was a promising concept. But I don’t see them on her website anymore.

She may have gotten some buzz, but I don’t think she got many sales. I don’t think she ever really figured out the full “story” that needed to be told to “explain” her tagline. I kept encouraging her to document with videos, but I don’t think that ever happened. Her skill set was not marketing and that gimmick required marketing if it was to gain a following.

What must be avoided is becoming dependent on a gimmick. If all you are presenting is photos of sunsets on beaches on aluminum and you are making the aluminum the key “selling point”, you might find yourself looking for a day job. At the end of the day, it’s not about the matrix that you present your work, it’s about the quality of the work first.

And don’t become complacent and rely on your gimmick and forget to move forward and innovate. There is another something around the next corner that might be really compelling for you to consider in your creative endeavors. Never give up on your creative meanderings. Meandering is all part of the journey; your artist soul is always the destination.

The foundation

This last bit of advice is for everyone – no matter what you are creating.

Believe in yourself, believe in your artistic vision, believe in your message and your power as an artist. When you have confidence in your ability as an artist you are less likely to need a gimmick in the first place. Then, when you add in a Unique Selling Proposition, a wow-factor, it’s like icing on the cake. 

The ceramist was very likely “onto something”. However, the painstaking workmanship that created delicate walls and nearly flawless symmetry being intentionally destroyed was probably a bridge too far. For collectors of quality wheel-thrown clay art, that might have felt too gimmicky. Of course, one might consider throwing raw chunks of clay against a wall. That could become a “thing” if it’s underlying purpose is understood and represented in an authentic way.

It’s a fine line between gimmick and contrived attempts to wow your audience and collectors. However, when you can stay authentic AND have a cool-factor “gimmick”, you will be hard to resist.

Pondering time

What ideas can you throw to your creative self? What experiments live just under the surface that you need to pursue? What “gimmick” might push the envelope and increase your sales?