5 Great Products You Won't Believe Failed Miserably
There's a saying: "If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door." That saying is bullshit. You could create the most effective way to dispose of rodents the world has ever seen, but without funds, proper infrastructure, competent groundwork, those dicks in marketing, and plenty of luck, you'll be as successful as the Pied Piper of Hamelin screaming about his pest-removal services on the street corner while drunkenly smearing himself with human shit.
This means that, occasionally, products that should revolutionize the world will just dwindle and disappear like a fart in the wind. Some of them we remember, others we unnecessarily revile, and others still we barely register were ever there. These are their stories.
A Chili Dog That Isn't A Ridiculous Mess
Do you like chili dogs? Do you like cheese dogs? Of course you do, because you're a sane human. But because of the mess they cause, they're completely impossible to eat without a spoon, which kind of defeats the purpose of a hand-held delicacy like that in the first place.
But the wise, forgotten engineers of the 1980s were able to devise an amazing way to eat them without looking like a heathenous glutton. Frank 'n Stuffs solved the problem by putting the chili and/or cheese inside the hot dog, and how they never won a Nobel Peace Prize and abolished all conflict from the world I'll never know. Behold:
You know you're in for something awesome when the ad for the product features
a reanimated corpse offering you money.
Frank 'n Stuffs were so good that people kept buying them despite the risk of having their mouths sliced open. They debuted in 1986 during a period of labor unrest, and some fucker planted razor blades in packages of the hot dogs. A Blade Frank (or what Wolverine's closest friends call him) wound up in a couple of packages in a few supermarkets, as part of a more widespread campaign that sabotaged a range of Hormel products.
Can this kill a product? Absolutely. Individual assholes can and constantly do ruin awesome things for everyone. Ronald Clark "human buttplug" O'Bryan laced a bunch of Pixy Stix with cyanide in 1974, and people to this day are still getting shit-scared about poisoned Halloween candy.
But whether everyone was too busy watching Top Gun and Aliens to really pay attention to the news, or Frank 'n Stuffs were just so good that people were willing to risk looking like The Joker to have them, someone must've enjoyed them as much as I clearly would have, because they stuck around until the 1990s, when they suddenly disappeared.
Why then? My theory: shit advertising. Frank 'n Stuffs were always marketed with a mild horror angle, which is not the best tactic when it comes to foods with ingredients as questionable as hot dogs. Here's the ad they used to convince you to eat one:
Evil laughter is always the best way to wrap up an ad.
For those who didn't watch the video: It's a short horror mansion dinner scene with a vague Rocky Horror Picture Show vibe, only Frank N. Furter -- the only character from the film whose presence would be justified -- is replaced with a generic mad-professor type. I'm not sure if this change is a good or a bad idea, but the ad's big reveal of the product definitely falls into the latter category:
You know what they say about never looking inside a Hot Pocket.
I don't know what fucking coprophile dreamed up that idea, but that's the exact way not to advertise a mashup of two delicious things that both already have the disadvantage of looking like various bits hanging around pelvic areas. Add to that the fact that the product's mascot was a type of Frankenstein's monster -- a shambling collection of dead, stitched-together meat tubes and -- shit, you know what? Now they've weaned me off chili dogs, and I've constantly wanted a chili dog since 1998. Good job, Hormel.
Disneyland For Europeans
As unbeatable as a company like Disney may seem, it will make you happy to know that even a global mass-media conglomerate that controls roughly 108 percent of your favorite franchises occasionally manages to set its blaster on rapid fire and shoot itself in the dick. Or maybe that makes you sad. I don't know your story; I don't want to make assumptions.
By the 1980s, Disney World and Disneyland had cemented their reputation as America's favorite locations to projectile vomit overpriced cotton candy on a dude in a Pluto costume. The next logical step was to take the show on the road and let Mickey loose across the pond. They did everything right: years of planning, a prime site near Paris, all the things you'd expect from experienced professionals.
Euro Disney Resort opened in 1992, to the kind of fanfare usually reserved for winning the World Cup. The rides were great. The shows were great. The experience was powered by the same barely concealed abject horror that made its American counterparts such smash hits. Nothing whatsoever could go wrong.
Yet, everything would.
"Wait, why is everyone speaking French?"
Yes, I'm aware that Euro Disney is still around (since renamed Disneyland Paris, because someone in the company finally noticed the old name is basically the local equivalent of "Dollar Disney"). However, it's one of the most inexplicable money pits for the entire company: It has been bleeding cash from all orifices for over 22 years, with no sign of stopping.
The problems started immediately. The park would have been bankrupt within two years of opening if a wealthy Saudi family hadn't bought a good chunk of it in 1994. Then in 2012, Disney had to throw it a $1.7 billion bailout. That still wasn't enough, and last year they gave it another $1.25 billion. Despite all these insane monetary injections, the resort is notoriously balls deep in debt ($2.2 billion, if you're curious), yet somehow continues to shamble on.
Sometimes the executives will send Euro Mickey out to beg with the homeless.
Lots of possible explanations have been given for the struggle of the resort: insane operating costs, overly optimistic revenue estimations, problems with personnel ... even the "curmudgeonly French intellectuals talking shit about the place" card was played at one point (to be fair, they totally were, but few multi-billion-dollar enterprises have been toppled by cranky old philosopher types muttering into their cappuccinos). Still, seeing as the place does attract visitors and by all reason should be the kind of money factory its Stateside sibling resorts are, it's kind of just an open fissure on the asshole of Disney.
Ghostbusters And Hi-C Team Up
Apart from old-school gamer types still chasing that magic jolt from mainlining Surge during their 1996 Quake-a-thons, very few drinks of yesteryear enjoy more nostalgic yearning than Ecto-Cooler. The Ghostbusters-themed drink was part of the Hi-C juice family and championed by mascot Slimer, most famous for temporarily rendering Bill Murray un-huggable. These were the drink's chief properties:
1) It was really, really green.
At least it wouldn't show when you spilled it on your neon green clothing.
Jokes aside, this citrus chemical cocktail was actually pretty good. So good, in fact, that it proved more durable than most things associated with the franchise. It survived Ghostbusters II and The Real Ghostbusters cartoon, created a considerable following, and stayed on the shelves in some form or another until 2007 -- when it disappeared abruptly, as products in this column are wont to do.
There was no rhyme or reason to the sudden disappearance of the popular drink, apart from the fact that it was owned by the Coca-Cola Company and therefore subject to all the random, "Hey, what if we made a New Coke?" bullshit decisions they're notorious for. Accordingly, its fans flipped their collective shit. The Internet is full of Facebook groups and Twitter campaigns trying to pester Coke into putting their least savory-looking hit drink back on the shelves. For those who can't wait that long, there are even DIY Ecto-Cooler recipes, though I have no idea how accurate they are. That's the downside to do-it-yourself projects: You have to do things, yourself. And I just can't get on board with that idea.
But popular products get discontinued all the time because of company shenanigans, production problems, and other horse manure. What makes this one different is that there's a new Ghostbusters movie on its way ... and it just so happens that Coke recently renewed Ecto-Cooler's trademark. With any luck, we'll actually get the chance to see whether our lust after beloved old products is genuine, or if nostalgia is just the modern form of being a lying douchebag.
Apple Had A PDA Way Back In 1993
Full disclosure: I have a complicated relationship with Apple. I've never owned an iPod, and I dislike their phones with the intensity of a dozen screeching fanboys who just found a small error in their favorite movie, yet I'm writing these words on a MacBook. Some of their stuff is kind of all right, but some isn't, I guess is what I'm saying. Controversial, I know. You should tell me how you feel about that in the comments.
Interestingly, one Apple product that I do feel was pretty damn all right was one of their most legendary failures. I'm talking about the Apple Newton, the groundbreaking PDA that was launched with typical Apple gusto in 1993, only to crash and burn into obscurity and sales death until Steve Jobs humanely took a bolt gun to its head in 1998. If failure is fine wine, Apple Newton is what James Bond orders: To this day, it's subject to hordes of case studies and is a routine top entry in articles about "Hahahahaha, these products failed so hard, LOL!"
Well, here's the thing: It shouldn't have failed. It's ridiculous that it did. Sure, it was expensive and had some glitches, like its initially flawed handwriting recognition. So what? New technology is bullshit half the time. The iPhone 6 could snap in your pocket like a twig, and people slept outside Apple stores for days to be first in line for one. The Newton was super innovative for its time, and we're still feeling its influence today: It was the first proper tablet, the first true piece of tech to tear us away from the computer while providing the same services, yet 1990s enough to attract the crowd not yet ready to live in the future:
"Buy two and Bart Simpson will rap for you."
There have been attempts to analyze the fall of what could -- and arguably should -- have ushered in a new kind of mobile device well ahead of the tech curve. One of the biggest reasons they generally point out is that Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury cartoon accidentally killed the product by choosing it as the subject of a weeklong tirade against silly modern technology, ushering in a barrage of pop culture jokes and negative media attention. The image of a crap device caught on, enabling Steve Jobs (who hated the fact that the Newton required a stylus) to easily erase it from the face of the Earth. But would he have done it if the Newton were selling like hotcakes? I'm betting no, even if the product was designed like a goddamned 1970s sci-fi nightmare.
You can almost hear the bleeping sounds.
Besides, I find it difficult to believe that a product's reputation could so utterly be killed by some glitches in groundbreaking technology and a cartoonist. If artists held so much sway over things, every politician would have burst into flames the second Bloom County made a comeback. Still, seeing as Newton's legacy very much lives on in modern handheld devices, things could have been worse for it. Just look what happened to ...
We Had An Electric Car Right From The Beginning
There is no logical reason why the Lohner-Porsche should have failed. It was designed by Prof. Ferdinand Porsche, the father of the guy you'll recognize by the way most automotive enthusiasts knock themselves out with their own joy-boners every time the name is uttered aloud. The Lohner-Porsche line featured both hybrid and totally electric cars in the early freaking 1900s, complete with impressive performance and some neat features, like an electric start.
So why did humanity only begin to treat hybrid cars as a viable method of transport well over a century later? After all, this was the hand-crank era; you'd imagine people would have climbed over each other to throw money at ol' Ferdinand for the electric start alone. And Lohner-Porsche wasn't some dainty little lily; it was a sturdy tank that looked like it ate other cars for breakfast.
"Bring it, Ford."
Yet, somehow, this awesomeness was never meant to be. The Lohner-Porsche was first unveiled at the 1900 world's fair in Paris and attracted massive press interest throughout Europe. Its various versions worked more and more electronics into the mix, until it ran on batteries and a gasoline-engine generator powering hub-mounted electric motors, one for every wheel. Despite its bulk, the vehicle was a reliable performer, well-liked by the people who bought it. It broke land-speed records with its ass-clenching-for-the-time top speed of 37 mph. That's ... not the sort of praise you generally get to give to a zero-emission car driven by smug turn-of-the-previous-century environmentalists.
And then, Lohner-Porsche dwindled out of production after only five years on the market. Only 11 hybrids and 65 full-electric cars were ever sold.
What the fuck, great-great-grandparents? Sure, the Lohner-Porsche wasn't a perfect vehicle. Cars had only just been invented; no vehicle was perfect. OK, so it was pricey. The batteries were cumbersome and weighty. The tires were under terrible pressure. But the hybrid tech the car utilized was solid, and the performance was there: For the short time they were on the market, various Lohner-Porsches became known as racing cars and public transport vehicles. Fucking NASA studied the car's wheel-hub tech decades later to create a little thing called the goddamned Lunar Roving Vehicle.
"LRV, I am your father."
So, yeah. This technology was good enough to send to the moon. How could you screw this up for us, ancestors? The rich folks of the era alone should have lapped up these things like the 1990s tore through Hummers. If that's the way we'd gone, we'd probably all be driving negative emission electric supertanks by now. We'd probably have hoverboards. You ancient fuckers, you deprived us of hoverboards.
Pauli invented the hoverboard in 1958, but Steve Jobs shut down the project. Here he is on Facebook and Twitter.
For more failed products, check out 9 Corporate Attempts At 'Edgy' That Failed (Hilariously) and Hulk Hogan Pasta To Shaq Fu: The 11 Most Pointless Celebrity Products.
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