Special Report

18 Worst Product Flops of All Time

10. The Newton MessagePad
> Company:
Apple
> Year released: 1993
> Company revenue when released: $7.1 billion

Several products on this list were not necessarily outright bad ideas, and many likely failed as a result of being launched at the wrong time. Apple’s Newton MessagePad, a handheld personal organization device introduced in 1993, likely falls into this category. Apple’s personal digital assistant incorporated touchscreen technology and a variety of innovative organizational software, including a text-based personal assistant, and the ability to sync with software on a personal computer. Unfortunately, several features did not work as well as expected, particularly the highly anticipated handwriting recognition software, and Apple only moved 50,000 units in the first four months. Many suspect the failure of the Newton MessagePad led to the departure of then-CEO John Sculley.

11. Persil Power
> Company:
Unilever
> Year released: 1994
> Company revenue when released: $45.4 billion

In the 1990s, detergent companies looked for new and innovative product offerings to differentiate themselves from the competition. Unilever introduced Persil Power to the market in 1994, a detergent that utilized a newly patented stain removal formula called the 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. Rival consumer goods company Procter & Gamble capitalized on Unilever’s error, commissioning lab tests to demonstrate Persil Power’s damaging potential and criticizing the product in the media. After nine months on the shelves, the company replaced Persil Power with Persil New Generation, a detergent without the Accelerator compound.

12. Arch Deluxe
> Company:
McDonald’s
> Year released: 1996
> Company revenue when released: $9.8 billion

McDonald’s introduced several product failures throughout its 60 year history, but none so monumental as the Arch Deluxe. Introduced in 1996, the Arch Deluxe was marketed as a more gastronomic hamburger with “a grown-up taste.” One commercial featured a child unable to enjoy the sophisticated burger, stripping its toppings to satisfy his unrefined palate. The Arch Deluxe’s advertising budget was an estimated $200 million, the most of any fast food product at the time. The approach failed and sales of the Arch Deluxe missed the $1 billion expectation set for its first year. The following year, McDonald’s reversed its strategy by switching ad agencies and introducing a 55-cent sandwich.

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