50 Worst Product Flops of All Time

23-Nov-2017

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Some product launches can be spectacular failures, and Google Glass, an eyeglasses shaped head-mounted device with smartphone capabilities, failed spectacularly several years ago. However, Google is betting that Glass can still find a market. The internet giant announced the relaunch of the device this week, but is aiming at a narrower customer audience this time.

Just like success, failure is part of doing business. Entrepreneurs and large companies often take big risks, hoping for success but not always achieving it.

These failures take many different forms. When a product doesn’t sell, when it is recalled or discontinued, or when it otherwise does not come close to meeting a company’s expectations, it can be marked as a failure. While failures are expected, some can be so catastrophic they can lead to permanent damage to a company’s reputation, layoffs, and even complete financial ruin.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed some of the greatest product launch blunders throughout history. Today, these product flops exist as case studies companies use to avoid future failure. They range from Ford’s Edsel in 1958 to last year’s Galaxy Note 7. Many of these products led to losses in the hundreds of millions, and sometimes billions. In tech, film, the internet, the pharmaceutical industry, and more, these are the biggest product flops of all time.

Hindsight is 20/20, and while many of these gaffes might not have been predictable at the time, the reasons for their failure are often much clearer today. The reasons for the failures often fall into one of a several categories: overpricing, timing, bad advertising, product flaws, and reaching beyond what consumers of a brand are willing to accept.

Sometimes products are sold at a premium because they offer features competitors do not, either perceived or actual. When customers do not feel a product is superior to another — rightly so or not — they will not pay the premium price. While Apple is able to sell computers at a premium today because of its brand perception, the Lisa, introduced in 1983, failed largely as a result of its nearly $10,000 price tag.

Many of the products on this list could have been perfectly viable, possibly even a hit, if they had been introduced at a different time. Sega’s Dreamcast was the first major console to introduce global network connectivity, but this was before every home had a stable connection fast enough to make the Dreamcast viable at the time.

For some flops on this list, it is poor understanding of the market that dooms these products. McDonald’s Arch Deluxe was marketed as a burger for those with refined palates, turning away kids, as well as many adults, from the ill-fated item. Coca-Cola completely misjudged the desire of its customers when it changed its classic flavor and introduced New Coke.

Sometimes, brands overextend their reach, introducing products that clash with their image and target demographics. One does not need to dig too deep to understand why Colgate, a brand associated with toothpaste, failed to make its line of frozen dinner products a success. The same can be said for Cosmopolitan’s brand of yogurt, Smith & Wesson’s mountain bike line, or Harley Davidson’s perfume.

Of course, many of the products on this list were simply poorly designed or faulty — at times downright dangerous. Such was the case with Mattel’s line of seriously flawed Hot Wheels and Barbie computers, or the Galaxy Note 7, plagued by battery fires that caused the phone to be banned on airplanes, recalled, and eventually discontinued.

Despite their disappointing launches, some of these products still exist today. Google’s Glass and Google+ each became the butt of jokes after failing to live up to lofty promises. One day, we may see one of these flops become the product it was meant to be.

These are the 50 biggest product flops of all time.

1. Google Glass
> Company: Google
> Year introduced: 2013
> What it was: Wearable technology

Google first announced Google Glass — an eyeglasses shaped head-mounted display with smartphone capabilities — to the public in 2012. The announcement began with a statement of principle: “We think technology should work for you — to be there when you need it and get out of your way when you don’t.” After two years of disappointing sales, it was clear consumers did not need Google Glass. Google stuck to its principle, and in 2015 discontinued the product’s development. Privacy concerns, reported bugs, low battery life, bans from public spaces, and an inability to live up to the hype all stymied public adoption of the technology. However, Google is not giving up on Glass. This week, the company announced plans to relaunch the product. Originally aimed at consumers, Google will launch a version targeted at the corporate market.

2. The Newton
> Company: Apple
> Year introduced: 1993
> What it was: Personal digital assistant

While the personal digital assistant would become a popular consumer electronics product in the late 1990s, the first PDA was one of the biggest product flops of all time. One year after Apple CEO John Sculley coined the term “PDA” in 1992, the company released the Newton MessagePad. While the device incorporated innovative technology such as a pen-based touch screen and the ability to sync with software on a personal computer, Apple sold only 50,000 units of the product in its first four months on the market. The Newton product line was discontinued in 1998.

3. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
> Company: Atari
> Year introduced: 1982
> What it was: Video game

Several video games have failed over the years, but arguably none as spectacularly as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. The video game was created/developed shortly after the release of Steven Spielberg’s classic film. With only five weeks spent in development — games typically take months, if not years, to program — the game was notoriously difficult and sold miserably. Atari spent $21 million to purchase the rights to the franchise and $5 million on promotion of the game. The company made 4 million copies of the game, but sold only 1.5 million. Atari buried the leftover copies in a landfill.

4. Satisfries
> Company: Burger King
> Year introduced: 2013
> What it was: French fries

In 2013, Burger King introduced a new menu item advertised as a healthy alternative to their traditional french fries. Satisfries used a less porous batter, which caused the fry to absorb less oil than regular fries during cooking. While Satisfries were made with a healthier recipe, Burger King failed to convey the difference to customers. The fries were also more expensive than Burger King’s regular french fries, and failed to gain traction with consumers. The company discontinued the fries in 2014, less than a year after they were introduced.

5. Premier smokeless cigarettes
> Company: RJ Reynolds
> Year introduced: 1988
> What it was: Cigarette

R.J. Reynolds, the second largest U.S. tobacco company, began marketing in 1988 a smokeless tobacco product that was intended to be a safer way to use a cigarette. In addition to concerns over the product’s actual safety, smokers missed the familiar elements of traditional cigarettes — the smoke, the burn, and the flick. Another issue was the widely-reported unpleasant chemical taste, which one user described as resembling “burning plastic.” Reynolds sunk close to $1 billion into the product before pulling it off the market within a year.

6. Cheetos Lip Balm
> Company: Frito-Lay
> Year introduced: 2005
> What it was: Lip balm

Popular lip balm brands such as Chapstick, Blistex, and Burt’s Bees, have successfully sold their products to Americans for decades. Many prefer such flavored varieties as cherry, mint, and vanilla bean. Not every popular flavor can be successfully turned into a lip balm, however, a lesson PepsiCo subsidiary Frito-Lay learned the hard way in 2005. While Cheetos has been a popular snack for more than six decades, Cheetos-flavored lip balm failed to catch on with consumers.

7. Terra Nova
> Company: Fox
> Year introduced: 2011
> What it was: TV show

Every year, TV shows are cancelled before the end of their first season. While Terra Nova, which aired for one 13-episode season, is not unusual in this regard, it may go down as the most costly cancelled television show of all time. Documenting the time-traveling adventures of a family fleeing a dystopian society set in the 22nd century for a prehistoric past, the pilot of the show alone cost Fox between $16 and $20 million to make. Terra Nova encountered numerous production mishaps while filming in Australia, including a flood that nearly killed a crew member. Ratings failed to meet expectations, and the show was not renewed for a second season. Fox is estimated to have spent more than $50 million on the failed show, not including marketing costs.

8. Touch of Yogurt shampoo
> Company: Clairol
> Year introduced: 1979
> What it was: Shampoo

In keeping with the 1970s trend of incorporating natural food ingredients like lemon, herbs, and honey into beauty and hygiene products, Clairol — at the time a subsidiary of Bristol-Myers Squibb — thought a yogurt shampoo was just what the American consumer wanted. It turned out the company had grossly miscalculated. Many consumers were apparently confused as to what they had bought, as there were reported cases of people eating the shampoo.

9. New Coke
> Company: Coca-Cola
> Year introduced: 1985
> What it was: Soft drink

Over the 15 years leading up to 1985, Coca-Cola’s flagship cola drink had been losing market share to Pepsi Cola. To compete, the company changed the drink’s formula for the first time in 99 years — but the move today is considered one of the greatest flops of all time. New Coke was met with public outrage and lasted only a few months. The company reintroduced its older formula, rebranded as Coca-Cola Classic.

10. Windows Vista
> Company: Microsoft
> Year introduced: 2007
> What it was: Operating system

Introduced in 2007 as a follow-up to Windows XP, the Windows Vista operating system was everything its popular predecessor was not — in all the wrong ways. Panned by customers and IT professionals alike, Vista reduced PC performance and caused a number of internet problems for users. As a result, Dell began offering Windows XP again on new laptops a few short months after Vista was introduced. Windows announced this month that it would no longer provide support for Vista, driving the final nail into the operating system’s coffin.

11. Kitchen Entrees
> Company: Colgate
> Year introduced: 1982
> What it was: Frozen meal

Many of the worst product flops in recent memory were caused by otherwise popular brands wandering too far outside of their area of expertise. Colgate Kitchen Entrees may be the best example of such a product failure. When it came to pre-prepared frozen meals, Americans had plenty of options in the 1980s. Perhaps because consumers naturally associated the Colgate name with toothpaste, there was never much of an appetite for pre-made meals bearing the Colgate logo.

12. Coors Rocky Mountain Sparkling Water
> Company: Coors
> Year introduced: 1990
> What it was: Sparkling water

Coors and Coors Light are two of the most popular beers in the United States. Introducing Coors Rocky Mountain Sparkling Water to the public in 1990, the Coors Brewing Company also sought to capitalize on the fast-growing bottled water segment in the United States. The water was Coors’ first non-alcoholic product since Prohibition. The Coors brand name did not help to sell the product, however, as the beer-name branding may have confused or even frightened consumers. Coors let its trademark of Rocky Mountain Sparkling Water expire in 1997.

12. Coors Rocky Mountain Sparkling Water
> Company: Coors
> Year introduced: 1990
> What it was: Sparkling water

Coors and Coors Light are two of the most popular beers in the United States. Introducing Coors Rocky Mountain Sparkling Water to the public in 1990, the Coors Brewing Company also sought to capitalize on the fast-growing bottled water segment in the United States. The water was Coors’ first non-alcoholic product since Prohibition. The Coors brand name did not help to sell the product, however, as the beer-name branding may have confused or even frightened consumers. Coors let its trademark of Rocky Mountain Sparkling Water expire in 1997.

14. Persil Power
> Holding company: Unilever
> Year released: 1994
> What it was: Stain remover

Unilever introduced Persil Power detergent to the market in 1994. The product utilized a newly patented stain removal formula called Accelerator. The company was so confident in the Accelerator catalyst that it carried out its $300 million introduction of Persil Power without any formal test marketing. Over time, it became clear the detergent was damaging clothes at high temperatures. After nine months on the shelves, the company replaced Persil Power with Persil New Generation, a detergent without the Accelerator compound.

15. Cosmopolitan yogurt
> Company: Cosmopolitan
> Year introduced: 1999
> What it was: Yogurt

Cosmopolitan is a popular women’s magazine, full of fashion advice, dating tips, celebrity gossip, and horoscopes. What the magazine’s leadership was thinking when they expanded the brand’s reach from the magazine aisle to the dairy aisle remains a mystery. Few will likely remember the 1999 debut of Cosmopolitan’s yogurt line, as the short-lived product was only available for 18 months. Like many other products on this list, Cosmopolitan yogurt was a case of a brand reaching too far beyond its area of expertise.

16. DH 106 Comet
> Company: De Havilland
> Year introduced: 1949
> What it was: Airplane

We now take jet travel for granted, but the development of a commercially viable jetliner involved a great deal of trial, error, and some utter failures. De Havilland, a British aircraft manufacturer, developed the Comet, the first commercial jet airliner. Unfortunately, within a few years of its 1949 debut, the Comet encountered several unexplained fatal crashes, including planes overrunning the runway and one exploding in midair. The Comet’s reputation plummeted, and while De Havilland scrambled to redesign the plane, American companies Douglas and Boeing took over the industry.

17. DeLorean DMC-12
> Company: Delorean Motor Company
> Year introduced: 1981
> What it was: Sports car

In 1973, auto executive John DeLorean quit General Motors to form the DeLorean Motor Company. After years of production delays, the DeLorean DMC-12 was released in January 1981. The car’s unique design was poorly received, however, and by 1982 less than half of the 7,000 DeLorean units produced had been sold. The DeLorean is widely recognized due to its use as a converted time machine in the “Back to the Future” series. However, the first of these films was released in 1985, far too late to save the ill-fated brand. DeLorean filed for bankruptcy in 1982.

18. EZ Squirt
> Company: Heinz
> Year released: 2000
> Company revenue when released: Ketchup

Before EZ Squirt, ketchup was always varying shades of red. To cater to kids, who were — and still are — among ketchup’s largest groups of consumers, Heinz began producing purple, green, and blue EZ Squirt ketchup in matching, vibrantly colored squeeze bottles. At first, the colorful ketchup was a huge success. The novelty wore off quickly, however, and not long after its introduction, sales of EZ Squirt began to decline. In January 2006, less than six years after its debut, Heinz halted production of the product.

19. United States Football League
> Company: USFL
> Year introduced: 1982
> What it was: Sports league

Conceived as a way to satiate America’s appetite for football in the spring and summer months, the United States Football League was introduced in 1982. The league originally consisted of 12 teams, one of which, the New Jersey Generals, was owned by President Donald Trump. The league was beset with problems, not the least of which was finding stadiums to play in. Ultimately, over half a dozen teams folded when the league’s brain trust decided to compete directly with the NFL by scheduling games in the fall. By 1985, the league was finished.

20. Home
> Company: Facebook
> Year introduced: 2013
> What it was: Mobile phone app

With rising mobile phone use and social media engagement, Facebook in 2013 decided to launch a family of apps that combine these trends. Facebook Home converts the home screen of a smartphone into the Facebook news feed. While most of Facebook’s over 1 billion users log in to their accounts on a smartphone, the social media giant’s new product never caught on. Early users cited clunky operation, the inability to toggle between Facebook Home and the original phone interface, and lack of options for customization, among other snags.

Read more here:

50 Worst Product Flops of All Time

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