Products That Failed: What Can They Teach Us?


The most well-known corporations in the world — Apple, Sony, Google, Nike — are recognized for both their innovative manner and their staying power. Every year these corporations and dozens of others like them launch a myriad of products designed to grow their market shares and, ultimately, their profits. Product launches like Apple’s iPhone 6, Window’s Surface Pro, and even McDonald's McRib or Peanut M&Ms have almost “cult” followings.

However, not every product launch is successful. Even with the proper backing and brand recognition, some product launches have failed miserably. But why? Let's take a look at some of the most notorious product flops in history and highlight the cause of their failure.

Brand Consistency

Branding is arguably the most important factor in growing your business. Your company’s brand is more than just an image — it's a promise. You are promising quality and consistency to your consumer. As Quality Logo Products explains,

“In today’s fast paced world… Branding is a great way to promote [product or service] recognition because people are busy and tend to adhere to familiarity. If consumers recognize a brand…they are more likely to choose that product or service again.”

While branding is vitally important to a company’s sustained success, it can also be a hindrance. Just ask Ben-Gay: The company, famous for their topical ointments and creams, decided to expand their product line by introducing aspirin. For a company focused on pain relief, aspirin may seem like a logical next step. However, consumers clearly identified Ben-Gay with its unique smell and lasting warming affect when applied to the skin.

Bobbi Dempsey, writing for Investopedia humorously notes that “People just couldn't get a taste for swallowing something made by a brand they associated with a burning sensation.” Ben-Gay’s well-established brand identity was the downfall of this particular product launch.

Colgate had a similar problem. The company, known for their toothpaste and oral care products, unexpectedly launched a line of TV dinners. Colgate marketing and innovation executives must have imagined their consumers eating a Colgate meal, then following up with a Colgate teeth cleaning. However, as Andrea Chalupa writes in DailyFinance, the Colgate brand image was too much for consumers to overcome. She explains, “the trouble was that for most people the name Colgate does not exactly get their taste buds tingling.”

As we can see, branding can be a double-edged sword. Keep this in mind when expanding on an established brand identity. If your new product is in conflict with what consumers already know about your brand, the dissonance can create a major stumbling block.

Marketing Missteps

Some ideas sound flawless in the boardroom, but the actual marketing of the product may prove difficult and, sometimes, deadly (for the product at least). Just ask Redux Beverages, the makes of “Cocaine” the energy drink. The drink, which was launched in 2006, touted over three times the amount of caffeine as popular competitor Red Bull and, consistent with its name, marketed itself on the energy kick it gave its consumers.

It would seem obvious that a product sharing a name with a notorious drug would be difficult to market. Redux must have thought that “edgy” consumers would buy into their boldness. However, the company over-embraced this association, which is precisely why the product was pulled from shelves in 2007. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) claimed Redux was “illegally marketing their drink as an alternative to street drugs.” A bad marketing buzz for all. Interestingly, Redux relaunched its “Cocaine” energy drink in 2010 after satisfying the FDA, but it has never reached much market penetration.  

It's All In the Timing

Whether hitting a baseball or launching a new product, the age-old saying “Timing is Everything” always rings true. No one knows this better than Ford and Apple. In 1957, Ford launched its newest model, “The Edsel.” They poured over $400 million dollars into researching, developing, and marketing this new vehicle. While the car had a fancy, sleek look to it, its extended front and rear body was in in complete opposition to consumer tastes of the time. As Business Insider points out, “Americans literally weren't buying it, because they wanted ‘smaller, more economical vehicles’… [while] other pundits have blamed its failure on Ford Motors execs never really defining the model's niche in the car market.” Ford supplied consumers with something they were not demanding, and lost its investment as a result.

On the other hand, Apple launched a product in 1993 that every consumer would want to own — 10 years later. The Apple Newton, one of the first Personal Digital Assistants, garnered tons of ridicule for its weight and extremely high price point. The Newton was very simply too far ahead of its time. Daily Finance agrees, “The Newton faded away in 1998, but charted the course for the Palm Pilot in the late 90's and the popular BlackBerry and iPhone today.” It's looking more and more like Google Glass is on the same track to obscurity today. But time will tell.

What's the Takeaway?

Between brand consistency, marketing mistakes, and bad timing, even a well financed product from a major company can still end up going down in history as a total failure. This is why product testing and market validation are essential. Get your product in front of your consumer base before launching to make sure that your great idea rings true.

What's your favorite new product catastrophe? Share by tweeting @EidsonPartners!

4 thoughts on “Products That Failed: What Can They Teach Us?

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  3. Pingback: Learning Through Failure: Startup Edition | Eidson & Partners

  4. Pingback: How to Create & Sustain Brand Loyalty | Eidson & Partners

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