Big companies must take big risks and sometimes spend millions of dollars in an attempt to find the next big thing before competitors do. Such attempts, however, are not always successful and in some cases epic failures. Some of these flops seem like a matter of bad luck. Others are quite simply foolish mistakes the companies and marketers make. Today, these product flops exist as interesting case studies companies use to avoid future failure.
An estimated 40% of all product launches fail, but only a few fail in truly spectacular fashion. To identify some of the worst product flops of all time, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed products introduced after 1950 by America’s largest companies. To make the list, the product flop had to cause the major U.S. company that launched it significant losses and potentially damage its brand. Many of these products led to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in losses.
A great deal of a product’s success can be determined by timing alone. In many cases, the products on this list were viable, innovative ideas that were poorly received because the technology was introduced too soon. This argument could be made for Apple’s Newton MessagePad, which failed abysmally even though it contained many technologies that are commonplace today. The same could be said of Premier smokeless cigarettes, which used a very similar technology to today’s wildly popular e-cigarettes, but were roundly rejected by the public at the time. Of course, each of these products had other problems that led to their failure as well.
Even companies with extremely well-established consumer brands must on occasion think outside the box to produce new versions of their product. Sometimes, however, these new products are so far removed from the core brand that shoppers reject it. McDonald’s Arch Deluxe cheeseburger, Coors Rocky Mountain Sparkling Water, and Harley Davidson Perfume are all examples of brand overextension.
Sometimes, poor marketing can also hurt a perfectly serviceable product. Maxwell House Brewed Coffee, for example, contained a picture of a hot cup of coffee but was meant to be stored in the refrigerator, confusing too many customers. The Ford Edsel suffered from design flaws and from being overpriced, but the manufacturer generated such anticipation for the product it dubbed the “car of the future” that it was practically set to fail.
Of course, just as frequently as products fail because of bad marketing or timing, there are products that are simply inferior or faulty. Mattel’s Hot Wheels and Barbie computers, for example, were rife with manufacturing flaws, and the costs to fix the machines drove the computer’s manufacturer out of business. Unilever’s Persil Power detergent was discovered to damage clothing at high temperatures.
Revenue figures were pulled from parent company financial statements, or from the Fortune 500 the year the product was released.
These are some of the worst product flops of all time.