When Corporate Innovation Goes Bad:
The 101 Biggest Product Failures Of All Time
From the DeLorean and New Coke to the Newton and Google Glass, here's a list of the biggest product flops from corporate giants.
Product innovation is one way that large corporations stay competitive in a rapidly changing marketplace, but it doesn’t always work out when big brands attempt innovation. Below are what we consider to be 101 of the biggest product flops of all time. We combed through thousands of media articles to select these product flops across major industries including tech software and hardware, consumer packaged goods, fast food, and electronics. Let us know in the comments if we missed any that should be added. Understanding failure is crucial since so many accounts of innovation focus on the successes and so are affected by survivorship bias. This is the same spirit that animates our lists of 156 Startup Failure Post-Mortems and expensive startup failures, as well as our Downround Tracker.
1. New Coke, Coca-Cola (1985)
This was a change consumers never asked for and public backlash was a disaster. When the company went back to the original formula, Peter Jennings broke into hit TV show “General Hospital” to announce the news and US Sen. David Pryor called it “a meaningful moment in US history” on the floor of the Senate.
2. The Edsel, Ford (1957)
Renowned as one of Ford’s greatest flops, this ride had it all: weird body styling, unreliable controls (including a push-button ignition), and an ambitious run-up of ads that may have inflated customer expectations.
3. Facebook Phone, Facebook (2013)
The Facebook Phone was surrounded by speculation from the moment the first rumors of it surfaced, so almost any product would have failed to live up to the hype. What the public got was the HTC First, an Android-skinned device whose main feature was being geared towards the Facebook Home application. The phone’s exclusive carrier, AT&T, drastically slashed the price to 99 cents in a “temporary sale” that became permanent until the phone’s death.
4. Newton, Apple (1993)
Revolutionary for its time, this handheld PDA pinned its hopes on handwriting recognition. Jobs himself reputedly hated it, saying of the device’s stylus input device: “God gave us ten styluses … let’s not invent another.”
5. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (videogame), Atari (1982)
At a time when Atari was the undisputed monarch of video gaming and E.T. was the top box office hit, an officially-licensed E.T. video game should have been a guaranteed hit. Atari spent $20M securing the movie rights, built the notoriously-hard-to-play game in just five and a half weeks, then produced 4 million cartridges, of which 2.5 million came back to the company. Atari had a landfill in New Mexico for unsold product where many of the E.T. cartridges ended up. Video game historians have pointed to E.T. game as one of a string of high-profile duds that contributed to a crash in the North American video gaming industry from 1983 to 1985.
6. Fire Phone, Amazon (2014)
The Kindle Fire tablets were a hit with consumers, so the development of a phone wasn’t much of a surprise. But the device turned out to be clunky, have limited app options, and even the Firefly feature (which recognized products and songs) couldn’t win over customers.
7. BlackBerry PlayBook, BlackBerry (2011)
An early tablet that played HD videos but lacked a native email client and calendar, two things Blackberries were renowned for doing well. Instead, users needed to connect their Blackberry smartphones to the tablet via the Blackberry Bridge software, an unnecessary extra step (and an impossible one, if you didn’t already own a Blackberry) that turned users off. It also had a poor selection of apps, the lifeblood of any tablet.
8. Twitter Peek, Peek (2009)
This was a dedicated device that just sent out and received tweets, but couldn’t even do that properly, giving users only a 20-character preview of their tweets. Users passed on this gimmicky handheld.
9. Wow! Chips, Frito-Lay (1998)
This line of chips was made with Olestra, an artificial fat that was supposed to pass harmlessly through your digestive tract. Gastrointestinal side effects of an unmentionable variety ensued, followed by lawsuits.
10. Google+, Google (2011)
Google+ isn’t the only social outing on this list from the search giant, but it’s probably the highest-profile disappointment. A closed launch made invites a hot commodity for about a week. Then Google discarded their restrained invitation model, throwing open the doors in an attempt to build a user base that never lived up to their expectations of creating a possible Facebook competitor. While still in operation, Google+ is hardly anybody’s favorite social network.
11. Crystal Pepsi, Pepsi (1992)
David Novak, the former CEO of Yum Brands, recently stated that Crystal Pepsi was developed to reinforce consumer interest in purity and health. But Pepsi’s attempt to cash in on this 90s fad didn’t catch on. Consumers were confused about what it was supposed to taste like: it was citrus flavored, instead of a clear cola (as the name would seem to have implied). Even an over-the-top Super Bowl commercial featuring Van Halen’s “Right Now” couldn’t make this drink a success.
12. Gerber Singles, Gerber (1974)
Adults want convenient food, so Gerber decided to release baby-food style versions of adult foods with flavors including Beef Burgundy and Mediterranean Vegetables. This might have been too much convenience, however, as consumers showed they’d clearly rather spend a few more minutes preparing food they had to chew than scoop unsavory-looking mush into their faces from a jar.
13. SPOT Watches, Microsoft (2004)
MSN was no one’s favorite web portal, and by 2004 there were many better ways to get stock quotes, weather, and other information than through this clunky watch.
14. Google Glass, Google (2013-2014)
Google Glass might have come too soon. Between a sky-high price, issues around privacy, and cultural backlash, this wearable product just didn’t connect.
15. Dreamcast, Sega (1999)
This powerful console was supposed to be 1999′s hottest system and put Sega back on the map. Despite early success and some ahead-of-its-time hardware, it just couldn’t compete with the PS2 and its failure was ultimately part of why Sega got out of hardware and became a third-party game publisher.
16. Bikes, Smith and Wesson (2002)
S&W has been making bikes for law enforcement since 1997, but the general public just didn’t go for this seemingly out-of-left-field brand extension.
17. Jaguar, Atari (1993-94)
Here’s a story you never hear in the tech world: the Jaguar got pushed out early because its development was running ahead of schedule. Originally slated as the 64-bit follow-up to the 32-bit Atari Panther (Atari’s competitor against the SNES and Sega Genesis), the Jaguar came out in 93 in New York City and San Francisco, then rolled out to the rest of the world in 1994. Alas, hardware was the bugbear of this brick and developers had trouble building games for its multi-chip setup. Even Atari wasn’t making many games for it, leading to declining sales and a library of just 67 games officially released.
18. Satisfries, Burger King (2013)
Burger King attempted to court consumers seeking healthier fast food options with these revamped french fries. Execution fell flat, with consumers reporting that they had a tougher outer coating and a drier texture.
19. DeLorean DMC-12, DeLorean Motor Company (1981-83)
This stainless-steel sports car is most famous for its appearance in the “Back to the Future” movies. Notable for its gull-wing doors and unique body styling, the DMC-12 (usually just referred to as “the DeLorean,” as it was the company’s only model) was plagued by performance and safety issues. Its fate was sealed when the auto industry faced a dramatic downturn in the early 80s and only about 9,000 cars were built before production ceased in 1983. This flop has a happy ending, albeit 30+ years later: DMC Texas has received federal approve to produce about 50 new DeLoreans a year, starting possibly as soon as 2017.
20. Virtual Boy, Nintendo (1995)
This wasn’t a true sequel-console, not really virtual reality, had a hard-to-see red-and-black interface, and no killer games to boot. All that added up to a big old nothing.
21. PS Vita, Sony (2011)
Sony’s fist handheld, the Playstation Portable, sold almost 81 million units, but the PS Vita lacked must-have games and didn’t offer users enough integration with other Sony platforms to make it worth the $249-$299 price tag.
22. Amazon Local, Amazon (2011)
Amazon’s idea of innovation in the daily deals space was to get in almost three years after Groupon. The division stopped selling deals in December of 2015.
23. Oakley Thump, Oakley (2005)
Sunglasses with built-in mp3 player. Too expensive ($495 in 2005 dollars), cheap-feeling, weak sound, and terribly unfashionable.
24. Zune, Microsoft (2006)
Microsoft’s “me too” mp3 player was too late to the iPod party. It played music well enough, but its special features (including sharing songs with other Zune owners nearby) just weren’t enough to beat Apple’s sleek iPod.
25. Pippin, Apple (1995)
Apple’s only attempt at a gaming console tried to do too much: games, web browsing, and educational applications. They didn’t bring it to market solo, either, relying on Bandai’s brand recognition in the gaming world. Only 42,000-100,000 units were sold.
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