NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- When you're in a competitive market, you have two options to stand apart from the competition: You can make a superior product, or you can come up with a gimmick. And while many companies move their industries forward by striving to achieve the former, many inevitably succumb to the temptation to do the latter. In the past few years we've seen film studios race to churn out 3-D movies, fast food companies introduce goofy, high-calorie menu items and beer companies find new ways to modify their cans and bottles.
Of course, pinning down what does or doesn't constitute a gimmick is tough.
"It depends on who you ask -- one person may call something a gimmick that's deconstructive and degrading, but if you ask the creator, they'll call it an innovation or a feature," says Sasha Strauss, a branding expert and managing director of brand consulting firm Innovation Protocol. But he adds that whatever you call it, a product gimmick is only a bad thing if it detracts from the main event and hurts the brand. "When companies add on unnecessary supplements that distract us, it degrades our connection to the brand to begin with," he explains. "When they say, 'Check out A, now check out A-plus-1,' what they've done is distracted the audience from importance of A and put the attention on the plus-1." There are good gimmicks and bad gimmicks, in other words. Here are four gimmick products from 2011, some of which flopped and some of which accomplished exactly what the company set out to achieve.