10 Of The Worst Product Fails In History

Added by Edan Barak on Aug 20, 2015
product failures

In the eyes of the law (in the U.S., at least), corporations are recognized as people, and why not? They can misbehave like people, they can be greedy like people, and they can be extremely dumb, which is very much like people. So let's treat them like people! Today's list is dedicated to ridiculing some of the dumbest corporate decisions that led to the most epic failed products of all time.

10 New Coke

I'm not a Coke fan, since it's basically sugary poison in a can, which is why this story is particularly delightful in my opinion.

Back in 1983 market share for Coca-Cola was below 24%, and the Coca-Cola company was looking to return to the glory days of 60% market share (just after World War 2). Their researchers were telling them that the Baby Boomers of the time were concerned with their health and weight, and so Coca-Cola decided to create a sweeter version of their original formula to appeal to the young people who preferred Pepsi's sweeter taste. Fast forward 2 years and say hello to New Coke, a reformulated version of Coke's original formula.

The result of this move was catastrophic. First, the letters and phone calls came in to company headquarters. 400,000 in all. Yes, you read that right. Five 0's. One of the letters was directed at the CEO of Coca-Cola requesting his autograph, since the signature of "one of the dumbest executives in American business history" would likely become valuable in the future (his words, not mine). The Coca-Cola company even hired a psychiatrist to listen in on some of the calls. He later told management that it sounded like people were discussing the death of a family member, when talking about New Coke. Some people have strange priorities.

Less than 3 months after introducing New Coke, the original Coke formula was reintroduced, and named 'Coke Classic'.

9 Colgate Kitchen Entrées

In 1982, having already established their name as one of the market leaders in the oral care market, Colgate decided to branch out. They brought out a range of frozen meals called Kitchen Entrées, presumably with the idea that customers could enjoy their food, then brush their teeth with Colgate toothpaste.

However, the idea was a complete flop from start to finish - it was so unpopular that the Kitchen Entrées brand never even left U.S. soil. I guess customers didn't see the appeal in eating a meal which sounds as if it'll leave you with minty freshness. In fact, it wasn't just a disaster for the meals themselves; the rest of Colgate's products felt the impact of the downturn in popularity. Toothpaste that might taste of your dinner is as unappealing to consumers as meals that could taste of toothpaste...

8 Clairol's Touch of Yogurt Shampoo

It is well known that yogurt has many health benefits, for the outside of your body as well as the inside. There have been many successful brands of skin and hair care products which have used dairy products. However, Clairol missed the mark completely with their Touch of Yogurt shampoo.

It was brought to market in 1979, when natural ingredients were all the rage in women's bathroom cabinets. In this case, it wasn't just bathroom cabinets that people kept this product in - there were reports of people who confused the shampoo with actual edible yogurt (seeing as the word is emblazoned in large letters across the front), and who became very ill as a result. Perhaps this is the reason why it was so unpopular, or perhaps it was just because washing your hair in yogurt sounds neither clean nor enticing.

This catastrophe for Clairol is a little surprising, considering that they made a very similar mistake earlier in the decade. Just five years earlier, in 1974, they released 'Look of Buttermilk' shampoo, which was just as much of a failure. It seems that Clairol didn't learn their lesson, much to their detriment.

7 WOW! Chips from Frito-Lay

We all dream of being able to eat whatever we want, without putting on weight - especially potato chips. That's why, when WOW! Frito-Lay chips were unveiled in 1998, America went mad for them, spending almost $400 million in the first year alone. These chips were made with olestra, which is a substance which tastes just like fat, but which has large molecules which the body can't absorb. The result of this is that they go right through you - literally.

People began to experience intense stomach cramps and diarrhoea, which led the FDA to put a label on the packaging. It read: 'This product contains olestra. Olestra may cause abdominal cramping and loose stools'. When something like this is emblazoned across a snack which is supposed to be enjoyable to eat, shouldn't that set alarm bells ringing? Needless to say, sales halved - by 2000, numbers had fallen to $200 million.

The WOW! chips were pulled from the shelves after a very brief stint on supermarket shelves, but in 2004 they were relaunched, with a new 'Light' branding and risk-free ingredients. There they have remained to this very day.

6 McDonald's Arch Deluxe

In 1996, McDonald's decided that they wanted to branch out from the child-oriented menu which they had on offer, so created the Arch Deluxe burger. It was supposed to be a sophisticated burger, aimed at adults.

This fact was stressed during the advertising campaign which McDonald's paid through the nose for. The ad campaign actually showed children appearing disgusted with the burger; it's unlikely that an adult would actively be attracted to a burger which children showed aversion to! Nevertheless, the product hit the stores... and ended up being one of the biggest flops of all time.

McDonald's had spent a whopping $300 million on the research, development and production of the Arch Deluxe. However, it was pulled after a very short time on the market. Perhaps unsurprisingly, more recently Japan and Australia have also had failures with trying to introduce very similar McDonald's products into their markets. After all, people don't go to McDonald's for a high class burger - they want little more than taste, convenience and a low price!

5 Dasani bottled water

Coca Cola is one of the biggest drinks manufacturers in the world, so it's a surprise when they launch a product which goes so badly wrong (New Coke aside). Such is the case with Dasani bottled water, which was made by Coca Cola. It had actually enjoyed resounding success in the American market. However, when it travelled 'over the pond' to the United Kingdom, it was an entirely different story.

For starters, the water was branded as being 'bottled spunk', with the tagline 'can't live without spunk'. Unfortunately for the manufacturers, they failed to notice the glaring difference in meaning of the word 'spunk' in America and England. In America it means courageous, lively and boisterous, while in England it is a slang word for semen. Not exactly the type of thing you want to advertise and encourage people to drink...

For those who could overlook that massive error in judgement, that wasn't the only problem. Even before the product had launched it was known that the water was no different to faucet water from Sidcup, a region in London. Apparently it had been rebottled after a process of 'reverse osmosis', but this did little to appease customers, who did not appreciate paying for something that they could get out their faucet.

As if that wasn't enough, things only got worse for Dasani bottled water. Not long thereafter, authorities in the UK found bromate in the water, which is carcinogenic - in other words, cancer causing. Coca Cola recalled the brand from British shelves (better late than never), and decided against introducing it to the French and German markets, as they had planned to. It's probably best that they stick to soda...

4 RJ Reynolds' Smokeless Cigarettes

Around 1988 it became clear that second hand smoke was as much of a danger to people as smoking itself. As a result, RJ Reynolds (the name behind other big cigarette brands such as Camel) decided to launch a brand of smokeless cigarettes. They worked by drawing heated air over tobacco and nicotine flavourings, thus reducing risk to the smoker as well as the people around them.

However, you know things aren't going well when even the company's CEO isn't a fan. He said that the cigarettes 'tasted like shit' - not one of the flavourings they were going for! He wasn't the only one; many people who tried the product complained about the taste. Clearly, it wasn't popular with smokers, and for non-smokers it had no purpose. It was destined to fail.

Considering that in total these smokeless cigarettes cost over $325 million to get on the shelves, you'd have thought they'd looked into all possible downfalls. However, one aspect which they failed to notice (despite all the investment) was that the cigarettes actually became a popular hiding place for crack cocaine. Once that damaging reputation had been established, there was little that RJ Reynolds could do to save the brand. After four months of terrible sales figures, the smokeless cigarettes were no more.

3 Crystal Pepsi

In the early '90s, a connection was made between clarity and purity; many popular brands jumped on this bandwagon. One such company was PepsiCo, who developed Crystal Pepsi - essentially, it was supposed to taste the same as regular Pepsi, with the gimmick being that it was clear and caffeine free. At first, the public loved it, with the brand raking in almost $500 million in its first year alone.

This popularity was short lived, despite extremely costly advertising, featuring a pioneering printing technique, Van Halen and the Super Bowl XXVII. It seems that people really aren't keen on something which looks like Sprite but which tastes like Cola; sales fell and Crystal Pepsi was withdrawn from sale a year later in 1994. The phrase 'if it isn't broken, don't fix it' springs to mind.

Incidentally, around the same time, Coca Cola launched a very similar product called 'Tab Clear'. After their fiasco with New Coke in the previous decade, it's surprising they tried something so unusual again!

During an interview in 2007, David C. Novak (Chairman of Yum! Brands) is quoted as saying: '[Crystal Pepsi is] the best idea I ever had, and the worst executed... It would have been nice if I'd made sure the product tasted good. Once you have a great idea and you blow it, you don't get a chance to resurrect it'. True words - the two clear drinks which PepsiCo launched later the same decade also failed miserably.

2 Coors Rocky Mountain Spring Water

Yep, this is the same Coors that makes that infamous American lager. Apparently, they had been using water from springs in the Rocky Mountains in the manufacture of their beer for over a century. However, in 1990, alcohol sales were down, at around the same time as there was a rise in the popularity of bottled drinking water. Naturally, Coors thought it would be a good idea to take the same water that they had been using for decades, skip out the alcohol part, and sell their own bottled water.

Their downfall came when they used almost identical packaging on their new brand of water to that used on their beer. This confused customers, who weren't sure of what to expect from the new product. Coors Rocky Mountain Spring Water never really took off, and had vanished from supermarket shelves after just a few years.

1 Earring Magic Ken

Barbie has been one of the biggest selling toys in history, since her debut in 1959. Ken has been her steadfast companion for decades, until 1993 when he had a little identity crisis. Mattel (manufacturers of Barbie and Ken) surveyed young girls, asking what they thought of Ken. Apparently, they liked him, but wanted him to be 'cooler'. Mattel's answer? Earring Magic Ken...or 'Gay Ken', as he was dubbed.

Earring Magic Ken wore black pants, a mesh T-shirt, a purple vest, a silver chain around his neck, and a purple earring in his left ear. Although this was probably not the idea of Ken that the little girls had in mind, the gay community went mad for this version of Ken.

However, Earring Magic Ken was slammed by many, including gay community commentator Dan Savage, who wrote: 'Queer Ken is the high-water mark of...either queer infiltration into popular culture or the thoughtless appropriation of queer culture by heterosexuals'. Following this, Mattel recalled thousands of Earring Magic Ken dolls and discontinued this incarnation. Despite this criticism, Earring Magic Ken remains Mattel's highest selling Ken doll ever. Just don't tell Barbie.

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