The Top 10 Product Fails

10)  Fromage Fail – ‘Cosmopolitan yogurt’      

Launched in 1999 after a survey with readers said that 65% of them used edibles in the bedroom.  This led to the bizarre and somewhat tenuous link by Cosmo that people who read their magazine will therefore want to buy erotic dairy products. Needless to say that this really didn’t appeal to the majority of readers and combined with the high price of the yoghurts in comparison to competing brands the line was discontinued within 18 months.

9)  Woeful Water – ‘COORS Water’

As one of the most popular beer brands in the world, it's a pretty safe bet that even your most loyal customers would not be interested in buying bottled water from you. A prime example of this is Coors Rocky Mountain Spring Water. Although spring water from the Rockies is indeed used during the brewing process of Coors beer, when bottled alone it’s missing one saleable factor... ALCOHOL.

8)  A Brush with Failure – ‘Colgate Meals’  

The logic behind the pairing? Consumers can eat a Colgate meal and then brush their teeth with Colgate toothpaste. Unfortunately for them, the thought of toothpaste failed to wet consumers’ appetite’s for a chicken stir-fry. The product was a complete bust and was pulled soon after its release. 

7)  The Great American Balls-Up – ‘USFL’  

This was a professional American football league, founded by Millionaire Donald Trump. The USFL was intended to be a major professional sports league that ran during the off-season of the National Football League. It was set-up in 1983 but failed to reach the end-zone, folding 1987. Despite a rough start the league continued and expanded but was destined for failure after Trump decided to compete head to head with the NFL instead of continuing to schedule games in the offseason. It could not compete with the NFL’s financial capabilities and by the time it folded the net loss of the USFL was around $163 million.

6)  Full of Hot Air – ‘Premiere Smokeless cigarettes’ 

In 1988, when second-hand smoke started to be recognised as a serious health risk, the company behind brands like Camel decided to launch Premier, a line of smokeless cigarettes. The project took several years to develop and cost more than a billion dollars. Reporter Magazine said that smoking the Premier "…produced a smell and flavour that left users retching." This combined with the fact that the cigarette became an implement in which crack cocaine could be smoked pretty much guaranteed the product's failure and it was dropped just a year after its release. Of course some 25 years later the concept has remerged, and market is now being flooded with e-cigarettes. Perhaps the originators of the concept can take some comfort in this new trend…

5)   A hard pill to swallow –‘Ben-Gay Aspirin’      

Well known US brand Ben-Gay had become synonymous with its strongly scented muscle ache cream and had even released ‘Ultra Strength Ben-Gay’ to great success. They decided that the next logical step in expansion of the brand would be to release ‘Ben-Gay Aspirin’. Their logic was that both products are associated with pain relief. However this proved a disaster as the general public associated Ben-Gay with a ‘burning sensation’ and didn’t relish the idea of swallowing the product. As a result the aspirin was quickly pulled from the shelves.

4)   ‘It’s Good But I’ve Seen Beta’  - ‘Sony Betama’

Sony first introduced the Betamax technology in 1975, closely followed by the rival JVCs VHS in 1976. Whilst Sony refused to share their product JVC were more than happy to, and by 1977 there were at least another 4 companies who were marketing VHS-based machines. This lead to the VHS’s ability to undercut the Betamax technology by up to $300 and by 1982 Sony only had a 25% market share.

Another important factor to note is that when VHS was first introduced, the tapes could hold two hours of video compared to Betamax’s one. By 1977, VHS could hold four hours. Despite Betamax’s obvious advantage in recording and viewing quality the annoyance of having to change tapes halfway through a movie meant that most people settled for the much more convenient VHS. As a result, 40 production companies adopted VHS instead of Betamax and by 1988 VHS had a 95% market share. Sony soon adopted the VHS technology and Betamax hobbled on into steady decline until it was finally discontinued in 1998.

3)   The Delux Disaster - ‘Arch Delux’

In 1996, McDonald’s made a play for adults with a more refined palate and spent $100 million in advertising to introduce the Arch Deluxe.  Although the initial research showed that people would buy a ‘sophisticated burger’ this did not prove to be the case. One reason for its failure could be that it marketed itself on taste, which is not why people consistently go to McDonald’s. The majority of customers enter knowing what they want to eat and are not interested in sampling gourmet fast food delicacies such as the Arch Delux. It failed because it did not fully appreciate why the consumer chose McDonald’s above other fast food chains, simply being a home away from home with recognisable and familiar food.

That’s not to say the Arch could never work. MacDonald’s have worked tirelessly on branding, trying to distance themselves from the negative ‘fast-food’ image.  There recent explorations into the ‘gourmet’ have been more successful. However the McSalad still wilts in the shadow of the Big Mac. 

2)     Car Crash – ‘The Edsel’

1957, Ford debuted the Edsel in what may have been the most elaborate product launch in history. September 4th was branded “E Day”, as the new concept was introduced to America. That was followed by The Edsel Show on October 13th. Ford thought that it would stir up public interest if the car itself was not included in any of the ad campaigns. Even car showrooms were forced to keep the car undercover or risk losing their Ford dealership license. When the moment of truth came and the curtain was finally pulled back the car could not match up to the hype. Although Ford had promised a ‘revolutionary car that would change the automotive landscape’ they had overstated their case throughout the marketing campaign and customers were less than impressed. Ford ended production of the Edsel in December 1959 having lost $350 million on the car.

1)      Fizzy Failures – ‘New Coke’

The year was 1985 and for the first time Coca Cola was seeing its market share start to fall. Their number one rival Pepsi had just carried out the ‘Pepsi Challenge’ showing that Pepsi came out tops in blind tasting. With this in mind Coke decided to scrap it’s most popular recipe and (after many millions of dollars in research and development) ‘New Coke’ was introduced.

The problem was that Coke had drastically underestimated the power of its original brand. Once the old recipe was no longer available outraged members of the public instantly decided to boycott ‘New Coke’. Within 3 months its production had stopped and the original cola was back on the shelves.

The reason for such a dramatic failure was this - From 1942, adverts appeared across the United States declaring: ‘The only thing like Coca-Cola is Coca-Cola itself. It’s the real thing.’ Although over time the adverts and the media changed, the message of Coke being ‘the genuine article’ was consistent. By stopping the original and launching ‘New Coke’, Coca-Cola was clearly contradicting their previous successful marketing efforts and the brand image that had emerged from them. People viewed Coke as a cultural icon; it was as American as apple pie and muscle cars. The American people didn’t want New Coke for the same reason they don’t want ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’…it’s un-American! 

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Duncan Collins
17.06.2014