Big companies’ biggest commercial failures
New product launches can be risky even for some of the largest companies on the planet. Some of the biggest names in world commerce, including McDonald’s, Microsoft, Nintendo and Netflix, have suffered massive flops from time to time. Below we have listed twenty of the most notorious failures. Luckily, businesses can learn from their failures.
Sega was the major name in the games console and software business in the 1990s. The company’s Genesis console, along with the Sonic the Hedgehog game range, helped Sega achieve a dominant 60% market share in North America. In 1999, the company launched the Dreamcast in order to compete with machines such as Sony’s PlayStation and Nintendo’s 64.
Experts believe that part of the problem for the product was that it was too innovative – for example it was the first console that could be connected to the World Wide Web – but whatever the reason, it never captured gamers’ imaginations. After two years of poor sales, the system began to be sold at a discount and soon disappeared.
Frito-Lay WOW! Chips
It looked as though the Frito-Lay company had found the Holy Grail in the late 1990s with their range of WOW! chips. These chips contained a compound named Olestra, which, it was claimed, made for fat-free chips that tasted no different from those with fat in – this just had to be a sure-fire winner, right?
Not quite. Unfortunately, although the first part of the claim was true and the chips did taste like non-fat-free offerings, the compound’s molecules proved to be too big for the body to digest, so they just went straight through the digestive system, resulting in stomach cramps and diarrhea for the unfortunate tasters.
Google Glass was launched in 2012. You could operate smartphone technology in a heads up display through the futuristic pair of eyeglasses. The product was founded on Google’s slogan, “We think technology should work for you – to be there when you need it and to get out of your way when you don’t.”
Unfortunately, after selling badly for a couple of years, the product’s development was halted in 2015. Many things prevented the public from taking the product to its heart, including poor battery life, software bugs, privacy concerns (a user could video anyone without their consent or knowledge) and bans from various public spaces.
Coors Rocky Mountain Spring Water
If you thought that a beer company launching a springwater product was a bad idea, it turns out you were right. Coors, famous for its beer, launched Rocky Mountain Spring Water in 1990 to a resounding chorus of indifference; unsurprisingly, it was revealed that beer drinkers tend to want beer companies to sell them beer.
Coors quickly went back to doing what they do best and, to the relief of devotees, didn’t suffer any lasting damage.
Ford launched the Edsel in 1957 on the back of a $400 million investment, just when American consumers were starting to realize that smaller, cheaper vehicles could do the job of 1950s enormous cars just as well.
The Edsel targeted the market between the most expensive Fords and the cheapest Mercurys, but it didn’t appeal to either demographic and was discontinued in 1960.
Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7
This has to be one of the most notorious product failures from a major company. Consumers might have put up with a poor interface or a weak reception, but the fact that the Note 7 had a tendency to catch fire or explode was apparently a bit offputting. Who would have thought, right?
It was claimed that someone had a car completely totalled as a result of a Note 7 fire, and airlines banned them from their planes entirely. Samsung ended up recalling every single unit.
Videotape first came into being in the 1970s, and Sony actually stole a march on the competition by issuing Betamax machines in 1975, a year prior to the introduction of the ultimately triumphant VHS system by JVC. Betamax was agreed to have better sound quality and visuals; Sony’s big mistake was to refuse to allow other manufacturers to license the technology, which placed a limit on the number of movies consumers could buy in Betamax format.
JVC allowed all interested manufacturers to license VHS technology, which inevitably made their format more popular. In 1975 Betamax tapes and machines controlled 100% of the VCR market; by 1988 this had fallen to 10% and it continued to fall until DVDs made VCRs obsolete.
Designed to take on the Apple iPad, HP’s Touchpad tablet, with a proprietary mobile operating system, WebOS, sold only 25,000 units before the company withdrew the product after 49 days on sale.
The problem with the Touchpad wasn’t that it was an inherently bad machine – it had a few flaws that could have been ironed out if it’d stayed on the market – but the problem was that it didn’t do anything better than the iPad, giving consumers no real motivation to switch from the market leader.
Nike Fuel Band
This wasn’t an out and out failing product: when the world’s biggest sportswear company launched its wearable fitness tracker, it was actually well-reviewed.
But for whatever reason it didn’t hit the right note with the public, having a mere 10% market share in the 24 months following its 2012 release. By 2014, virtually everyone on the design team had been sacked.
Not many people will remember “Second Life”, a virtual world with game-like properties that could only be used for social interaction. It quickly faded from view, although it is kept alive by its dedicated users. Google somewhat thought it was an interesting enough idea to launch a rival, “Lively”, in July 2008.
With the world financial collapse, the chance of the idea taking off faded from slim to nonexistent, and Lively suffered an early demise in November of the same year.
At the start of the 1980s, Coke was beginning to lose market share to its rival, Pepsi. Anyone around back then will remember the “Pepsi Challenge” ads, which gave Pepsi a massive boost. Rattled, Coca-Cola decided if you can’t beat them, join them, and launched New Coke in 1985 with the aim of offering a product that tasted more like Pepsi.
Although taste tests had been favorable, it quickly became apparent that, unsurprisingly, Coke fans wanted Coke; within a few weeks of release New Coke had been withdrawn and the old formula was released under the name Coca-Cola Classic.
Nintendo’s Virtual Boy
Virtual Boy promised users a whole new world of virtual reality in which to play games. The actual reality was low-resolution, had poor quality graphics and offered types of games that worked better on ordinary consoles.
Virtual Boy sold fewer than one million units, which might not sound too bad but which made it the worst seller in the company’s 100 years history. The failure of Virtual Boy is thought to be one of the reasons why gaming companies have been so cautious about launching VR games.
Smokeless Cigarettes, RJ Reynolds
Before vaping came on the scene, the biggest battleground over smoking was concerned with secondhand smoke. The smokeless cigarette, developed by RJ Reynolds, attempted to eliminate this conflict by selling a product that worked by burning a piece of charcoal in a plastic tube.
Unfortunately, it proved virtually impossible to get alight or stay alight, and even the CEO of the company admitted that it “Tasted like sh*t”. Probably for the best to be honest, because inhaling charcoal and plastic sure seems like a safe way to use your health insurance in the near future…
Cheetos Lip Balm
Lip balm has been a hugely successful product in America for many years, with Blistex, Burt’s Bees and Chapstick selling in the millions and millions of units each year. Many consumers are fond of flavored lip balm – cherry, mint, vanilla, etc.
However, PepsiCo Frito-Lay went just a step too far in 2005 by issuing a Cheetos-flavored lip product. It turns out that while consumers obviously like the taste of Cheetos on their tongues, they are not so keen on it lingering on their lips.
In the days before smartphones could do everything for us, personal digital assistants were seen as the way forward, organizing our calendars, keeping our address books, reminding us of appointments, etc. However, following the company coining the acronym “PDA” in 1992, Apple’s entry into this market, the Newton MessagePad, proved a failure.
Although this machine boasted a wealth of new technology – for example, it could link up with personal computers to share information, and it was controlled by a then-unique stylus-activated touchscreen – it only sold 50,000 units in four months. This was a distinct flop for a company used to its products flying off the shelves as fast as it can make them. Apple finally scrapped Newton products in 1998.
Pepsi AM/Crystal Pepsi
We don’t know how many people actually drink cola with their breakfast, but judging by Pepsi’s failure in this area, we’re guessing it’s not many. Pepsi AM was launched in 1992, targeting the “breakfast cola drinkers”. Needless to say, within a year it was off the market.
In 1992 Pepsi tried to revive the idea with “Crystal Pepsi”. Once again, consumers gave it a resounding thumbs down and it disappeared in 1993. Still refusing to give up on the idea, Pepsi relaunched Crystal Pepsi as a retro product in 2016 – and once again the public apathy was palpable.
Kitchen Entrées, Colgate
It’s often the case that when a popular brand gets too ambitious and moves away from its product base, they will find a flop on their hands. This certainly happened with Colgate Kitchen Entrées, a range of ready-made frozen meals launched by the toothpaste company Colgate in the 1980s.
Apart from the fact that the market was already overloaded with such offerings, it would appear that consumers associate Colgate with scrubbing food off their teeth, not putting it in their mouths, and the range quickly flopped.
Harley-Davidson is a global icon; virtually everywhere in the world it stands for masculinity, power and the American dream. When you have a brand that powerful, you’d think that was enough, but not for the Harley-Davidson company. In 1994, the company released a cologne, Legendary Harley-Davidson, and continued with products such as Black Fire along the same lines until 2005.
The company tried other product lines as well, including wine coolers and aftershave, but none of them were embraced by consumers. It turns out that consumers who buy into the Harley-Davidson mystique want to see the name on the side of a motorcycle, not a perfume bottle.
John DeLorean, an executive at General Motors, quit to found DeLorean Motor Company in 1973. Following massive production problems, the company’s first model, the DMC-12, hit the streets in January 1981. Critics didn’t warm to the unique design features of the new vehicle, and a year later over half of the original 7000 vehicle production run remained unsold.
We now all know the DeLorean as the Time Machine car in Back to the Future, and pristine examples can change hands for up to twice their original price, but this is of no use to John DeLorean, who went bankrupt in 1982.
Smith & Wesson Mountain Bikes
Although synonymous with American firearms and the days of the cowboy, unbeknownst to many, S&W had been selling pedal cycles to police forces for around twenty years before they decided to offer them to the general public in 2002.
Once again, this was a classic example of product overreach, with the public demonstrating that when it comes to familiar names on unfamiliar products, they tend to steer clear.