New product innovation is a tough gig. Even the most innovative companies can make huge mistakes from time to time. For all the research, testing and expertise in the world, there is no way for a company to guarantee the success of a new product. That being said, the best companies have much in common with each other while, naturally, the worst performers behave in many of the same ways.
The best innovators have a system in place that helps guide ideas from the hazy, uncertain initial phases into development, testing and eventually a full product launch. They have management systems that encourage expression and creativity while having the ability to actually allocate resources where they are needed. Being able to put things on hold and come back to them later is a fine skill, as most companies are tempted to get products flying out the door, even if the company should be focusing on other things. Tim Cook of Apple once revealed that the iPad had been developed long before it was released, but the company waited to put it into the final launch phase because they had other priorities at the time. That is good management and smart product innovation planning.
Perhaps most importantly, the best innovators actually do research. Research is extremely important because it allows companies to understand who they are actually selling to, how those people will react to the new product, what the product should look like and how many the company can realistically sell. This kind of thinking leads to unique, differentiated products that hit the market quickly and appeal to the consumer because the consumer was kept in mind from the first step to the launch. Unsurprisingly, many of the worst new product flops have to do with simply not understanding the market.
So what do the worst companies look like? Bad innovators tend to have way too many projects on the go at once. Lack of prioritization leads to confusion, thin resources and lack of strategic direction. Bad innovators also tend not to structure their teams correctly. Often, they will have a team of people who are not dedicated to the project or the project will pass from department to department in a sequence, ultimately making each department feel like an alien spacecraft has been dumped on their doorstep. Bad innovators also tend to have hostile management, weak management or management that simply does not encourage big, creative ideas. These kinds of companies tend to turn out lots of small, safe ideas rather than the big, market-shattering ideas that work their way into the culture and sell absurdly well (think iPods, smartphones, etc.)
Terrible products can be boring, confusing, overpriced, weird looking, terrible tasting or just downright pointless. Here is a list of 10 of the weirdest, most stupid new product flops of all time. Some of these products flopped because of problems such as bad management, lack of resources, not understanding the customer and poor research. Some of these horrific failures could only be a result of all of those problems occurring at once.
10) Heinz EZ Squirt Ketchup
You might remember Heinz EZ Squirt Ketchup from the early 2000s, especially if you were a kid around then. It was that disgusting purple and/or green ketchup that your weird friend liked to put on his or her fries because it grossed everyone out and they thought it was funny. While it may have appealed to that kid, it certainly didn’t appeal to enough people to make it a success. This is a classic example of a situation in which better market research and product testing would have revealed that the average person only thought of one word when it came to this coloured ketchup: “gross.”
9) Google Plus
Google Plus is Google’s foray into the world of social media. As an internet giant, they felt the need to integrate the rest of their services into a social media platform. The rest of the world, however, did not see why that was necessary and was perfectly happy to continue using their current suite of social media outlets. Amongst the many problems with Google Plus is the issue of usability. It is simply too “techy” for most people.
Ultimately, the biggest problem with Google Plus is that it does not offer unique differentiated appeal. It does not have any features that other sites do not have and does not do anything better than the more popular sites. It simply sucks. In 2012, G+ occupied a meager 0.24% of social media market share.
8) Coors Rocky Mountain Sparkling Water
This is a classic example of a company making a smart operational decision while ignoring how it looks to the customer. Coors, because of their beer brewing, has access to a great system of obtaining clean water, bottling liquids and distributing them throughout the world. To them, it seemed only natural that they could sell bottled water, right?
Wrong. When this product hit shelves, customers were confused and put off by the brand name being attached to a non-alcoholic beverage. To some, it was not even clear that it was non-alcoholic because of the similarity in packaging to Coors beer. The company is better off selling their water-like beer, rather than water itself!
7) Cosmopolitan Yogurt
Cosmopolitan Magazine is extremely successful and has been for a long time. Every month they entertain their readers with all sorts of articles, including roundup lists of sex tips that are ostensibly not great tips, but are definitely fun to read. A recurring theme in their tips has to do with edibles in the bedroom and perhaps that is where they got the idea to launch their own line of yogurt.
You would be right to think this is like a mining company opening their own chain of hair salons. Consumers simply did not know what to think of the brand crossover and how the two products were related. It debuted in 1999 and flopped shortly thereafter.
People want their modes of transportation to bring to mind certain ideas: functional, sexy, powerful, sleek. The Segway, sadly, brings to mind images of fanny packs, cargo shorts, and socks with sandals. Despite the hype around its development and all of the excitement for its release, when it actually hit the market, no one bought it. At $3,000, it was much more expensive than expected. In 2001, the company expected to sell 50,000 to 100,000 Segways, but by 2003 they had only sold 23,500.
At least mall cops and warehouse workers get to walk less, thanks to the Dorkmobile.
5) Harley Davidson Perfume
Harley Davidson brings to mind the ideas of freedom, rebellion, toughness, life on the road, beards and beer bellies. Perfume reminds the consumer of none of those things. This terrible product idea had the double effect of turning off perfume buyers with the tough brand while simultaneously turning off Harley customers with the pretentiousness of the perfume. This is a classic example of not understanding the market into which you are trying to sell.
4) Pepsi A.M. and Crystal Pepsi
These two deserve to appear together because they made the same mistakes. Both of these products were designed to capture markets that the company had not yet tapped, namely breakfast cola drinkers and…people who wished their cola was clear? Although it may seem obvious to the reader, Pepsi did not understand that those markets just do not exist. These products both flopped with minimal sales. They were rapidly discontinued after they were introduced in the 1980s.
3) Bic Underwear
That’s right. A company whose core competency is producing disposable pens and lighters decided to produce a line of underwear, a product in which they had no expertise, which has nothing to do with their brand and is generally not disposable. Consumers were confused about how this linked to the rest of Bic’s products or why they would ever want to wear this rather than something that had a bit of a sexier name attached to it, like Victoria’s Secret. Bic took a lighter to this idea shortly after it launched.
2) Microsoft Zune
If you are going to attempt to compete with an already-established and massively popular, innovative, game-changing product such as the iPod, it is best to make sure you are rolling out something spectacular. Anyone who ever had the displeasure of handling a Zune or Zune HD knows that Microsoft simply did not do that. The Zune was plagued by compatibility issues, crashes, security glitches, bad file formatting and – worst of all – a lack of cool. The Zune just was not as sexy as the iPod. Microsoft doubled down on their advertising in an attempt to move more Zunes in 2006, but in that same year the Entertainment and Devices division lost $1.3 billion dollars; yes, billion.
1) New Coke
Often talked about in business school marketing classes as the prime example of a product failure, New Coke was a true disaster. The Coca-Cola corporation, by the 1980s, had built a massive recognizable brand. Coke was part of American culture; it was as American as the flag itself – Uncle Sam in a sexy, curvy little bottle. It was delicious, beloved and consumed by all types of people in all kinds of situations.
So, why then did Coca-Cola executives decide to completely change the recipe? Well, they were facing some stiff competition and decided to shake things up. But as we all know, shake a can of Coke and it’s going to go flat. Consumers were outraged at the new, terrible tasting Coca-Cola. The company quickly introduced Coca-Cola Classic, brewed to the original recipe. They may have saved themselves, but this one is known as one of the weirdest ideas in corporate history and a huge flop that could have killed one of the most valuable companies on earth.