7 marketing gimmicks that could damage your brand

It’s one thing to be creative, but quite another when things take a turn for the worse. Contributor Timothy Carter discusses seven marketing gimmicks that have the potential to fail spectacularly and harm your brand.

buy-now-button-commerce-ss-1920What’s the difference between a gimmick and a strategy? Honestly, not much.

The difference is semantic, and I’m not here to argue about the differences. I’m here to argue that some marketing tactics rely on carefully thought-out strategies that guide users to your brand and help them make informed buying decisions, and others are meant to elicit knee-jerk reactions.

Both can be artful, and both can be effective, but one could be seen as having more integrity.

Even so, there have been some amazing marketing gimmicks in the past, and some have given life to otherwise uninteresting brands. But the failure rate for “gimmicks” is higher than it is for more thought-out strategies, and some gimmicks might actually damage your brand if they fail.

The following seven marketing gimmicks have a high chance of doing more harm to your brand than good.

1. A misguided contest

Contests are an advisable strategy in general; they tend to drive lots of user interaction and sharing, and they may even give you some user-generated content — but therein lies the danger.

When you start a contest, you’re instantly turning control of your campaign over to your users, many of whom are constantly looking for a way to exploit your intentions for their own benefit or for the simple sake of humor.

Be specific in your content instructions, make sure a content filter is in place for the strategy, and keep the nature of your contest in line with your brand standards.

2. Hashtag appropriation

Take a look at any collection of social media “fails,” and you’ll inevitably see at least one company that used a hashtag it had no business using. Hashtags are frequently seen as a gateway to greater visibility, but you can’t take this function too literally.

It’s not enough to merely stuff a post with hashtags; you have to use those hashtags appropriately.

Too many brands see a trending hashtag, assume they know what it means and end up making a hashtag-stuffed post that offends the main audience they were trying to attract in the first place. Do your research, and use hashtags sparingly.

3. Newsjacking

Newsjacking is a brilliant and efficient way to commandeer a trending topic for your brand, but you’re playing with fire.

A simple way to use newsjacking is to cover the topic from the perspective of your own brand, sharing your own insights, opinions or experiences with a similar target audience.

However, if you don’t provide this alternative or additional commentary, you could be seen as a plagiarizer or a piggy-backer, rather than a thought leader in your own right.

4. Clickbait articles

Clickbait articles use sensational headlines to encourage users to click through to your main site. It’s a powerful way to drive new traffic, but remember that traffic isn’t the bottom line here — you don’t want more users in general; you want more engaged users.

If your content doesn’t live up to the hype you built in your headlines, your users will leave disappointed in what they found — which means you’ll be damaging your brand more than helping it.

5. Guerrilla marketing

Guerrilla marketing is another tactic that’s interesting and powerful in theory, but there’s a fine line to walk. You’ll be surprising the public and showing them something they aren’t prepared for, and this can have highly unexpected consequences.

Let’s not forget about the comedy show “Aqua Teen Hunger Force’s” guerrilla marketing attempt back in 2007, which drove a city into a panic when people mistook its cartoon character-based advertisements as a potential terrorist attack.

If you’re going to try to launch a campaign like this, be sure you think through the consequences. Otherwise, you could lose trust and maybe even face legal trouble.

6. High-pressure landing pages

Segmented landing pages are a great way to target your audience with precision and ultimately drive more revenue, but you can easily cross a line while trying to maximize your potential conversions.

Some gimmicks that have been known to “trick” people into clicking — such as flashing lights and obnoxious text like “BUY NOW!!!” — trigger certain spam filters in Google, so that’s incentive enough not to pursue them, but softer gimmicks can be equally pressuring.

Don’t try to shove your products down users’ throats; even if it means sacrificing a handful of conversions, you’ll develop a better reputation as a company if you strive to earn conversions more honestly.

7. Any mention of a “secret”

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve tossed the word “secret” around in various marketing campaigns, from content titles to email blasts. It’s a seductive and powerful word that attracts people to click links and read more.

Unfortunately, the word “secret” makes a big promise — that what you have to tell users is both extremely important and previously unknown, and the likelihood that you can achieve both of these with whatever information you have is very low. Ultimately, most secrets are letdowns, so only promise what you can deliver.


Creativity, psychology and experimentation are all essential to the marketing process, but sometimes these fundamentals pool together in a way that focuses on coercion and relies on a trick rather than any solid foundation.

Don’t be afraid to try new things; being bold and taking risks has significant payoffs. Just make sure you’re properly informed and that you’re doing what’s best for your users.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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