I don’t know about you, but I find it to be strangely comforting to take a look at the flops of an otherwise successful company. When you see a company that has taken an idea, run with it and failed miserably –but yet is still chugging along in today’s economy — that’s encouraging. Whether they are great ideas with bad timing or bad ideas that no sense of timing could help, some products simply just don’t go over with the American public.
This time of year, we all tend to get a bit nostalgic, so here is our look back at five of the biggest product flops. See what you think. Maybe you have others to add to the list.
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Five of the biggest product flops
Yes, there was a time in the not too distant past that everything Apple did was not a success. Do any of you remember the cleverly named Apple Newton? Get it? Newton’s apple… Apple Newton? (Well, never mind, maybe it wasn’t so cleverly named after all.)
Long before the iPod, iPhone and iPad reached the market, Apple launched this innovative PDA device in 1993.
With a largely out-of-reach price starting price of $700, the Newton was indeed ahead of its time. In fact, it paved the way for the successful iOS platform that brought us Palm Pilots, Blackberries and the smart phones of today.
The device was plagued, however, not only by its cost but by its bulkiness, its short battery life, and its highly touted but highly inaccurate handwriting recognition software. The Newton was subjected to general ridicule from everyone from talk show hosts to the “Doonesbury” comic strip. Apple pulled the device from the market in 1998.
A dose of good old-fashioned competition sealed the fate of the Sony Betamax video recorder. At a time when there was very little pre-recorded material and the main advantage of having a video cassette recorder was to tape TV shows, consumers were able to choose between Sony’s Betamax – which hit the market first with the first home video tape in 1975– and the competing VHS technology launched by JVC in 1976.
Despite the fact that most experts still believe Betamax offered a better picture, Americans chose VHS. Why? Sony was slower to license its technology to other manufacturers, so VHS was a bit less expensive. The main issue, however, was the recording time of the tapes. Early VHS tapes had two hours of video recording time while early Betamax tapes had only one hour – not nearly enough to record a movie or a football game.
By 1977, VHS tapes boasted four hours of recording time. With the recorded movie market beginning to swell, some 40 production companies adopted VHS instead of Betamax. After struggling to compete for its share of the market, Sony threw in the towel in 1988 and started making its own VHS VCRs.
Ford promoted the heck out of this car. Calling it revolutionary and naming its launch day – Sept. 4, 1957 – E Day, the Edsel is known as the biggest car flop of all time. Whereas the doomed Delorean at least attained “cool” status thanks to the “Back to the Future’ films, the Edsel still remains a joke.
So what happened? A mixture of bad marketing and bad timing. The sedan’s md-range pricing and design did not appeal to either the budget-conscious or the luxury-driven American consumer. Despite the hype and showrooms filled with curious gawkers and test-drivers, Ford sold only 64,000 Edsels were sold its first year.
Seems most American hated everything about the car, starting with its name and ending with its distinctive grill, which, depending on your point of view, earned the description as “horse collar,” “a toilet seat” or “an Olds sucking a lemon”.
The Edsel also was a victim of poor timing as its release coincided with the start of an economic recession. Ford ended production of the Edsel in 1960, having lost a reported $350 million on the car.
McDonald’s Arch Deluxe
The king of fast food decided to class up its act in 1996 with the release of the Arch Deluxe. The fancy burger was marketed to adults as the “Burger with the Grown-up Taste” and featured a circular piece of bacon, slivered onions and a much ballyhooed “secret” mustard and mayonnaise sauce. Despite a reported $150 million ad campaign – one of the most expensive in history – the American public told McDonald’s something the company is not likely to forget: they don’t go to McDonald’s to be classy.
Although McDonald’s spent two years testing the Arch Deluxe before its nationwide launch, something went very wrong. Customers balked at its $2 price, its whopping 610 calories and its unconventional ad campaign that stated “McDonald’s is growing up.”
McDonald’s ended up discontinuing the Arch Deluxe and channeling some of the estimated $300 million worth of research it did on the adult fast food market into the development of some new salads.
In an amazing new product failure that actually turned into a renewed clamor for an old product, the saga of Coca-Cola’s New Coke is taught today in college marketing classes.
Facing stiff completion from Pepsi and other soft drinks in the early 1980s, Coca Cola decided to halt production of its flagship cola in favor of a new formula called New Coke. In April 1985, “smoother, rounder yet bolder” New Coke hit store shelves accompanied by a massive ad campaign featuring both everyday folks and celebrities like Bill Cosby singing the praises of New Coke.
To say the public was outraged is an understatement. In some cities, Coke faced public protests, boycotts, and bottles being emptied into the streets. The company reportedly received some 1,500 complaints a day about the change, and people began hoarding any of the original Coke they could find. Protest groups — such as the Society for the Preservation of the Real Thing and Old Cola Drinkers of America – even popped up around the country.
Just 79 days later, Coca-Cola brought back the original formula, re-naming it “Coke Classic.” The old and the new were sold side by side for a while, until New Coke’s name was changed to Coke II before it gradually disappeared completely from American shelves.
Coca-Cola representatives said at the time that they took an “intelligent risk.” What do you think? A brilliant mistake or just a mistake?