We’ve all had a laugh at the New Coke debacle. A healthy number of people have cringed at the disaster that was Earring Magic Ken. Every year, an estimated 30,000 new products are launched and every year, 95% of them fail. With over 28,000 failed products each year, there’s a substantial backlog of products that made it past market research, past development, past production and into the market at large.
Some of these products fail because they attempt to wage an impossible war against a better armed competitor. Such is the case of the Microsoft Zune which in 2006, took aim and fired a shot across the iPod’s bow. Poorly armed, the Zune focused too much on appeasing major record labels and not enough on pleasing the consumer. Furthermore, the Zune was competing on a battlefield already under the control of its competitor. The market for MP3 players belonged to the iPod; the war was long over and the Zune’s attempt to wrest control was the battlefield equivalent of ineffectually firing rubber bands at armored tanks.
And then there are other products that fail simply because they are lousy ideas. Poor ideas. Hilariously bad ideas.
Take, for example, the classic example of the Ford Edsel. Launched in a time of economic recession, the Ford Edsel was poised to change the very foundation upon which the automotive industry was built… or so the marketing led consumers to believe. The car was unveiled on September 4, 1957 — dubbed “E Day” by Ford — to near universal disinterest. Critics, grasping for some concrete, logical explanation for the car’s spectacular failure hypothesized that potential buyers may have been turned off by the car’s vertical grill that some said resembled a vagina. After 3 years, production ended and the Edsel represented a $350 million loss for the company.
So, in honor of New Coke, Earring Magic Ken and the Ford Edsel, here’s a list of seven spectacularly bad product ideas.
In the pantheon of bad ideas, one idea must be chief among them. In 1974, Gerber Products Company laid claim to that position by creating what can only be described as the Platonic ideal of a bad idea: baby food for adults.
Gerber Singles, as they were called, were individually packaged jars of food for single adults. Yes, Gerber used the same iconic jars it utilizes in its line of baby foods. No, apparently not one person at Gerber took pause, stood up and questioned whether this was a viable extension of their brand.
The unfortunate and laughable failure to read consumer interest has created a legacy so dogged, so persistent that over 25 years later, in an October 2000 issue of Business 2.0, Susan Casey commented, “they might as well have called it I Live Alone and Eat My Meals From a Jar.”
Cosmopolitan Brand Yogurt
In 1999, Cosmopolitan Magazine embarked upon a new venture. The venture — whose genesis can be traced back to a survey that indicated that 65% of Britons had used edibles in the bedroom — hoped to merge two seemingly disparate concepts, yogurt and trashy magazines, into a single cohesive product under the mantra, “sex sells.”
With a 2009 study estimating that 60% of adults are lactose intolerant to some degree, it’s difficult to imagine a bedroom additive less sexy than yogurt. Undeterred, Cosmo pressed on and entered the market with an ambitious line of “sophisticated and aspirational” yogurts and — no joke — sexy, low-fat cheeses.
Within 18 months, the line was discontinued and with it vanished the world’s best — and perhaps only — chance to truly discover six sexy yogurts that drive men wild.
Thirsty Dog (And Cat) Bottled Water
The average pet owner can probably count on zero hands the number of times their pet has requested a subtly carbonated drink with a hint of artificial beef bouillon flavoring. This didn’t deter The Original Pet Drink Company which, in 1994, launched a line of premium bottled waters intended for thirsty cats and dogs everywhere.
The Original Pet Drink Company seemed oblivious to the fact that its product was marketed towards an end user that would opt to drink out of the toilet if you let them, and focused on creating drinks with “a hint of sweetness” and flavors that tasted “a bit like salmon in a butter sauce.” Not surprisingly, Thirsty Dog! and Thirsty Cat! were short-lived endeavors.
In 1989, the number of people drinking coffee in the morning began to decline. Seizing the opportunity, PepsiCo aimed to be the first soda maker to the market with a cola specifically designed with the morning drinker in mind. Dubbed “Pepsi A.M.” the cola featured 28% more caffeine than regular Pepsi but 77% less caffeine than the average cup of coffee.
PepsiCo’s critical error was in its marketing strategy. Creating ads that focused on promoting occasional usage — in the mornings — they effectively limited their market by design, something generally frowned upon in the advertising business. Less than a year later, in 1990, Pepsi A.M. was put to bed due to low demand.
Colgate Kitchen Entrees
In 1982, Colgate — known primarily for its toothpaste products — decided to branch out into unfamiliar territory. Releasing a line of frozen dinners called “Colgate Kitchen Entrees,” the brand attempted to enter a market already dominated by freezer aisle titans Swanson, Banquet, and Stouffer’s. It’s unknown what allowed the idea to gain traction with executives or what spurred the company’s interest in such a bizarre brand extension.
Unsurprisingly, however, the idea of eating a turkey loaf prepared by a toothpaste company left a bad taste in people’s mouths. Consumers did not rush to their local supermarkets — as Colgate had erroneously predicted — to purchase quick-frozen Swedish meatballs from the same company that pumps peppermint flavored gel into aluminum tubes. In the end, the Kitchen Entrees line not only failed to take off, but actually negatively impacted Colgate’s toothpaste sales.
Celery Flavored Jell-O
In the 1960s, Jell-O aimed to make an impact on the dinner crowd. The company, claiming that “there’s always room for Jell-O” released a series of flavors intended to be used in savory salads: celery, Italian, mixed vegetable, and seasoned tomato. In a purely literal, scientific and physical sense, there probably is room for Jell-O in a salad, but in the rigid, button-down world of professional salad making, it’s hard to see how a classic Caesar will be improved by the addition of amorphous, fern-colored blobs.
In a turn that shocked no-one, consumers and supermarkets everywhere responded with a resounding H, E, C, K, no. The wiggling, savory mass wiggled its way off supermarket shelves and into the annals of history.
At one point or another, what woman hasn’t looked at her disposable razor and said, “This sure is great, if only there was a line of disposable underwear in the same product line.” This is obviously the extremely common and not at all unusual situation that the bigwigs at Bic set out to resolve in 1998 with the introduction of Bic Disposable Women’s Underwear.
One of the biggest problems with Bic’s new venture was that it required an entirely new distribution channel and new production technology. While the company’s lighters, razors and pens were all made from injection-molded plastic, Bic’s underwear was unable to utilize any of these shared processes. The cost of production and distribution coupled with the market’s hesitance to wear underwear it assumed was produced in a razor blade factory led to Bic pulling the plug on the project in 1999.
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