5 Huge Products That Failed Because Of Hilarious Oversights
Brands can go from little mom-and-pop operations to global corporations because they know how to avoid screwing up. Then, before releasing a new product, they go through years of testing and surveying to ensure they aren't wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on something that is going to flop harder than Johnny Depp's recent career.
But, no matter how careful they are and no matter how many people are involved, sometimes something so obvious a blind child could have seen it coming completely passes a company by.
Coca-Cola Ignored Market Research That People Didn't Want New Coke
Those of us who were around in the 1980s barely made it out of the Cola Wars alive. We've seen things, man. Seen and, more importantly, tasted.
What started out as some aggressive ad campaigns soon turned into a dire situation for Coke as customers abandoned the company's products for the sweeter taste of Pepsi. Coke's executives then felt they had to make a big change, leading to the most famous casualty of that time: The original formula for Coca-Cola was replaced with New Coke. It was at that point, according to one historian, that people "[couldn't] take it anymore."
Although, they did not resort to arson over it.
But, the evidence was there all along that this new formula was going to fail -- the company just ignored it, possibly because its executives were too busy with the other kind of coke. It was the 1980s, after all.
Most people remember New Coke as tasting terrible. This wasn't actually true. In fact, when they tested it in focus groups, people preferred the new flavor. But, when participants were asked if they would still like it if that flavor replaced the original Coca-Cola, about 12 percent of people didn't just say no, they actually got angry.
That's the problem with being really successful at what you do. Coke wasn't just a drink people bought because they were thirsty. It was a mega-brand; it went beyond a drink to being associated with childhood memories and classic ad campaigns where Don Draper made the whole world sing that song. Coca-Cola was so ingrained in people's lives that they almost didn't notice it anymore. So, when faced with the idea that this part of their lives might change, even if they liked the new taste, they took it personally. And those 12 percent of people, while not enough to tank New Coke on their own, put enough peer pressure on the people in their focus groups that they skewed more negatively.
"OK, how many people still prefer the new formula after Barry glassed you in the face?"
In other words, before launching New Coke, Coca-Cola had a perfect mini-example of what was going to happen in the real world. People would buy the new formula because they liked the taste, but a big enough segment of society was going to be very angry and very vocal and convince others to think like them. And, in the end, that is exactly what happened: Loyalty trumped flavor. After 79 days of calls, letter-writing campaigns, and protests, the company announced the original formula was coming back. And this was in 1985. If they tried something this dumb today, social media would take them down within 79 minutes.
Sony Didn't Make Betamax Tapes Long Enough To Hold A Movie
Caramel-colored drinks were not the only ones involved in vicious battles during the 1980s. This format war pitted VHS against Betamax and was the precursor to the Blu-ray Disc/HD DVD clash of the 2000s.
This conflict actually started in the 1970s. In 1975, Sony introduced Betamax for home recording and, since the company was the first to get out this new technology, they expected every video recorder maker would adopt Betamax as the standard tape. But, their competitor JVC had other ideas and released their own kind of tape, called Video Home System (VHS). After court cases and trade disputes, neither Sony nor JVC would back down -- meaning, from then on, every company that made home recording equipment had to decide which format to bet on and hope they picked the eventual victor.
Meanwhile, Cartrivision didn't even make it out of the cornucopia before it got a knife to the back.
Betamax could have won the war. It had better sound and video quality, and the recorders themselves weren't shoddily built pieces of crap like most VHS players were. You could probably even set the clock without a degree in mechanical engineering. But, Sony had based Betamax on an old system that had mostly been used by businesses for security tapes. Those tapes had never needed to be more than an hour long, so Sony kept Betamax the same length. Nowhere along the line did anyone stop and think about the fact that, aside from basic TV shows, absolutely nothing you would want to record is under an hour. If the people who came up with Betamax had just taken them home and let their families use them, instead of assuming nerdy stuff such as technical stats would sell the system, they would have immediately realized its huge shortfall.
Not even the pretty colors were enough to make up for it.
The nail really went in the coffin when Hollywood decided to go with the VHS format. Since movies are more than an hour long, and they couldn't expect customers to get up and switch tapes right when they were about to learn Darth Vader is Luke's father, they had to go with the VHS format. And, since consumers might record birthday parties and school plays (but actually watched only Hollywood films), they did, too.
IBM PCjr Had The World's Worst Keyboard
Take the anticipation for every new iPhone ever and roll it into one, and you come close to the buildup for the IBM PCjr. Time called the launch, "D-day for the home computer," which wasn't as hyperbolic as it seems because, in 1984, most normal people found using a computer as overwhelming as storming Normandy.
But, for those who actually understood computers, this machine was anticipated to be the best thing to ever come out of the technology's short history. IBM was already the giant of the home computer world and, with this new version, everyone expected it to completely blow away the competition, to the point that it might actually put most other computer companies out of business. The only concern IBM had was if they would be able to make PCjrs as fast as they could sell them.
"I'm afraid I can't let you buy that Apple II, Dave."
Once people actually saw the thing, though, no one wanted to be anywhere near it. It wasn't that the computer itself was bad. But, in order to actually do anything on it, you needed a keyboard, and the PCjr barely had one. The keys were so small that The New York Times said you could only type on it in short bursts, while PC Magazine not only complained about the size and the sound it made, but also said it was like "massaging fruitcake" and that typing on it required "the dexterity of a concert pianist."
No one knew how IBM could have missed something so obvious. Even the factory workers making the keyboards mocked them. Stores that had been expecting to be constantly sold out of the machines found they couldn't shift the original 25 they had received, and IBM salespeople started telling customers they needed to buy a new keyboard separately if they wanted to have more than an expensive electronic paperweight sitting on their desk.
Even the hands on the cover of the product's official magazine were trying to push it away.
While IBM fixed the keyboard problem eventually, it was too late. Instead of the 1 million units they expected to ship in 1984 alone, only 500,000 were sold by the time they discontinued it three years later.
Pfizer Failed To Teach Doctors How To Use Its New Inhaler
Hey, look, a needle:
Ew, ew, ew. Ew. Sorry about that, just needed to make the point that nobody likes getting shots -- at best, we tolerate them as an inconvenience that is usually necessary to keep us healthy. And, if you are a diabetic, you are sticking yourself constantly. So, any company that came up with a way to deliver insulin that doesn't involve poking holes in your body should be drowning in money.
Pfizer thought they had such a product when they introduced inhalable insulin in 2006. The technology behind it was cutting edge, the FDA said there were no safety issues, and the financial projections were in the billions ... how could anything go wrong?
And these were pharmaceutical executives, well-known for never doing anything stupid or evil.
Here's the thing with new technology: You need to teach people how to use it. That's especially true when the technology we're talking about is something necessary to keep that person alive and not just a new way to upload their inane thoughts online. Pfizer was so sure that our hatred of needles meant inhalable insulin would sell itself that it didn't bother sending out samples to doctors or making sure medical staff knew how to use the inhaler. Doctors usually try to keep their patients alive, so they were unlikely to prescribe a treatment that they couldn't explain how to use correctly.
And patients were unlikely to find out about the inhaler on their own, since Pfizer barely advertised it. If they did decide they wanted to use it, they ran into more problems. For one, it was huge, about the size of a can of hairspray, so it was annoying to lug around. Because of its size and the fact that it filled up with white powder before inhaling, people complained that, in public, it kind of looked like they were using a bong.
A bong that made smoking weed look as fun as filing taxes, but still a bong.
However, customers also said the design issues were worth it, once they knew how to use it. If Pfizer had actually thought of sending out a pamphlet or two instead of sitting on their butts, waiting for sick people to throw money at them, they might not have had to write it off as a $2.8 billion failure after less than a year.
R.J. Reynolds' Smokeless Cigarette Was Almost Impossible To Light
Vaping might be the hip new way to convince yourself you can keep smoking and it won't kill you, but people have been trying to live that dream for a long time. Way back in the 1980s, R.J. Reynolds spent more than $300 million to come up with a "healthier" cigarette that still got nicotine into the bodies of their addicts, but with fewer chemicals and no second-hand smoke.
The system they came up with was called Premier, and it worked like this: A small piece of charcoal at the tip of what looked like a normal cigarette was heated up with a lighter. It released no smoke and no ash. The user inhaled the hot air through the cigarette, where it burned nicotine and a "flavor capsule."
Made using "all-natural" ingredients.
If it had worked, it could have been revolutionary. But, according to reports at the time, it basically took a blowtorch to get them to light and, even once you did, you could never be totally sure since they didn't burn down like normal cigarettes. The only people who found this uncertainty helpful were high school students, who liked the fact that it was easier to sneak a smoke behind the dumpsters if they didn't have a telltale sign leading teachers to them.
Plus, they could probably get away with making them in shop class.
Not that it was worth it putting in all that effort to get your cigarette lit, anyway. Across the board, users said Premiers tasted like burning plastic and smelled horrible. This was coming from smokers, so it's not like they were expecting peaches and cream. For them to even notice the difference from regular cigarettes, it had to be pretty bad. And it wasn't like RJR didn't know this before they decided to sell them, considering when their own CEO tried one he declared that it "tasted like shit."
Not surprisingly, Premier cigarettes were on the market less than a year. More surprisingly, they were released again in the 1990s. And in India in 2002. And just last year under the name Revo. They flopped every time, but if cigarette companies aren't going to let something as silly as cancer get in their way, they certainly won't back down without trying a fifth time.
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