Special Report

18 Worst Product Flops of All Time

4. New Coke
> Company:
Coca-Cola
> Year released: 1985
> Company revenue when released: $7.4 billion

The Coca-Cola brand soft drink was first sold to the public in 1886 out of a single pharmacy in Atlanta — the pharmacy sold an average of nine drinks per day. Since then, the brand expanded exponentially and enjoyed immense commercial success, branching out into several popular products, including Sprite, Minute Maid, and Powerade. In the mid-1980s, however, the company’s flagship cola drink began losing market share to Pepsi Cola. To better compete, the company changed the drink’s formula 99 years after its debut — but the move today is considered one of the greatest flops of all time. The colloquially named “new Coke” was met with public outrage and lasted only a few months. The company reintroduced its older formula rebranded as Coca-Cola classic. After its brief hiatus, sales of the original formula Coke surged when it reappeared on market shelves.

5. Premier smokeless cigarettes
> Company:
RJ Reynolds
> Year released: 1988
> Company revenue when released:

Electronic cigarettes and hand-held vaporizers have surged in popularity in the last few years. These devices are not the first attempt by the industry to radically change consumers’ smoking habits. In 1988, R.J. Reynolds, now the second largest U.S. tobacco company, began marketing a smokeless tobacco product that was intended to be a safer way for its customers to smoke. The product heated tobacco pellets rather than burning them. Unlike many of today’s e-cigarette brands, the company could not claim outright that the product was healthier because that would have required the admission that regular cigarettes were unsafe. This was likely among the major reasons for the product’s failure. In addition, regular cigarette users were irked that the product lacked the familiar elements of a traditional cigarette — the smoke, the burn, and the flick. Another issue was the widely-reported unpleasant, chemical taste, which one user described as not unlike “burning plastic.” Reynolds sunk close to a billion dollars into the product, which was off the market within a year.

6. Maxwell House Brewed Coffee
> Company:
Philip Morris Companies
> Year released: 1990
> Company revenue when released: N/A

When a poorly marketed product is released to meet a demand that is not there, success is bound to be elusive. Maxwell House Brewed Coffee was pre-brewed coffee sold in a carton with a picture of a hot mug of coffee on the packaging, a misleading visual cue for a product meant to be stored in the refrigerator. Adding to the product’s issues, the carton was lined with foil, and could not be microwaved. For a product marketed for its convenience, this was an especially problematic feature for consumers. The product was discontinued shortly after it was released.

The product may also have been ahead of its time. Maxwell House, like a number of other brands, now sells concentrated pre-brewed iced coffee.

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