The larger the company, the greater its capacity for taking risks. While pouring millions of dollars into market research and advertising campaigns can lead to tremendous successes, such ventures can also be a formula for the most miserable failures.
To identify some of the worst product flops of all time, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed products introduced after 1950 by America’s largest companies. To make the list, the company needed to make the Fortune 500 the year the product was released.
Companies often launch new products in response to a competitor’s successful idea. But such products fail if they cannot measure up to the competition or capture consumers’ attention. Microsoft’s Zune was developed in response to successful Apple products. The Zune was harshly reviewed for technical problems consumers had with the device. It also lacked an easy-to-use music store.
Other experiments, such as the McDonald’s Arch Deluxe and Pepsi Crystal, were reinventions of a company’s staple. While there were good reasons to introduce these new products, consumers rejected them almost immediately.
In some cases, companies simply offered a bad product. Frito-Lay’s WOW! chips, for example, were very popular at first but ended up causing such unpleasant gastrointestinal problems that the product became completely unsalvageable.
Some products may have just been ahead of their time. The Newton MessagePad was perhaps the first tablet marketed to consumers, introducing in the early 1990s an idea that became very popular only a decade and a half later. However, Apple had trouble convincing consumers of the value of mobile computing at the time.
These are the worst product flops of all time.
> Company: Ford
> Year released: 1957
> Revenue yr. released: $4.6 billion
Released on “E-Day — with “E” standing for experimental — the Edsel was Ford’s attempt to offer a higher-end, mid-sized vehicle for consumers looking to upgrade. The car was named after Edsel B. Ford, the company’s former president and Henry Ford’s only son, who died in 1943. The Edsel cost Ford at least $350 million, which in today’s dollars is equal to roughly $2.9 billion. Ford promoted the car aggressively with expensive teaser ads, which may have gone too far in raising consumer expectations. A Teletouch pushbutton transmission and the Edsel’s electronic controls in particular were said to be revolutionary. Unfortunately, the new features were unreliable. The car was also quite expensive, ranging from $2,500 for the Edsel Pacer 4-door sedan to $3,766 for the 2-door convertible. This may have been difficult during a steep economic downturn — sales were down in 1957 for many other car companies, including Buick, Mercury, Dodge, and Pontiac. After four model years Ford stopped producing the Edsel.
> Company: Hewlett Packard
> Year released: 2011
> Revenue yr. released: $126.0 billion
Introduced in July 2011, the TouchPad was Hewlett Packard’s attempt to compete with Apple’s iPad. With powerful video capability and impressive processing speeds, the TouchPad was widely anticipated to be among the only products that could give Apple a run for its money. Despite large scale press events and promotions, the HP TouchPad was a colossal failure and was discontinued almost immediately. As a result of the TouchPad’s failure, the company wrote off $885 million in assets and incurred an additional $755 million in costs to wind down its webOS operations, ending all work on the TouchPad’s failed operating system. Since then, HP has continued to struggle to maintain its edge in the PC market. The once-dominant PC company is in the midst of a multi-year turnaround plan. While the plan may have recently begun to bear fruit, investors remain cautious.
3. Crystal Pepsi
> Company: PepsiCo
> Year released: 1992
> Revenue yr. released: $19.8 billion
In 1992, PepsiCo attempted to enter the then-flourishing “new-age beverages” market with its clear, caffeine-free Crystal Pepsi. The company promoted the product as a healthy and pure diet beverage. Its $40 million advertising campaign included permission to use Van Halen’s hit song Right Now in TV advertisements. Market tests at the time gave Crystal Pepsi such a positive outlook that Coca-Cola released Tab Clear to compete with it. While sales over the first year were a strong $470 million, many of the purchases were likely due to curiosity. Not only were consumers not convinced by Pepsi’s health angle, but many cola-drinkers expected a darker beverage. Also hurting Crystal Pepsi’s popularity: to many consumers it tasted just like original Pepsi.
4. Clairol Touch of Yogurt Shampoo
> Company: Procter & Gamble
> Year released: 1979
> Revenue yr. released: $8.1 billion
Yogurt and other cultured dairy products may actually be beneficial for your hair. Like many companies, P&G began emphasizing the natural ingredients in its products in the 1970s to answer the overall “back to nature” movement of the time. It was common for many shampoos to contain a variety of natural ingredients, including honey, various herbs, and fruits. When Clairol, a subsidiary of P&G, released its Touch of Yogurt Shampoo in 1979, however, customers did not take to associating dairy with a hair product. The product was also confusing to some. There were a number of cases of people mistakenly eating it and getting sick as a result. Surprisingly, Touch of Yogurt was not Clairol’s first failed foray into milk-based hair products — three years earlier it had attempted to market a shampoo called the “Look of Buttermilk.” Both sold poorly and are no longer available in the U.S.
5. Coors Rocky Mountain Sparkling Water
> Company: Adolph Coors Company
> Year released: 1990
> Revenue yr. released: $1.8 billion
Coors has advertised its beer as “cold brewed with pure rocky mountain spring water” for decades. Apparently, this water has been used to brew Coors beer since 1873. In response to a trend towards moderate alcohol consumption and significant growth in the bottled water segment, the company decided to sell spring water — its first nonalcoholic beverage since Prohibition. While the decision benefited from the company’s existing bottling logistics and distribution, the Coors brand didn’t help sell bottled water. Coors Rocky Mountain Sparkling Water used a similar name and label to that of Coors beer, which may have confused and even spooked consumers. Anheuser-Busch, maker of Budweiser, also began criticizing Coors around that time for attributing superior quality to its mountain spring water, which Anheuser-Busch claimed was cut with water from Virginia. Coors cancelled its bottled water trademark in 1997.
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