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 the 164 biggest product flops of all time. We combed through thousands of media articles to select these product failures across major industries including tech software and hardware, consumer packaged goods, fast food, and electronics.
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 386 startup failure post-mortems and the 214 most expensive startup failures, as well as our list of the top 12 reasons startups fail.
Table of Contents:
- Apparel & Wearables
- Automotive & Transportation
- Consumer Electronics
- Consumer Packaged Goods & Toiletries
- Food & Beverage
- Software & Technology
Apparel & Wearables
Evian Water Bra (2005)
As one of the best-known brands of purified water in the world, Evian occupies an enviable position in the broader beverage industry. In 2005, the company decided to diversify by manufacturing a support brassiere that could be filled with water.
The garment’s primary purpose was to offer women a cooler alternative to traditional bras during hotter months. It also featured a small pouch that could hold a bottle of mineral water.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the bra failed to catch on and was discontinued shortly after its introduction.
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 from Microsoft.
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.
Google continues to release new versions, albeit for enterprise use only.
Oakley Thump, Oakley (2005)
Oakley‘s sunglasses came with a built-in mp3 player. Too expensive ($495 in 2005 dollars), cheap-feeling, weak sound, and terribly unfashionable.
Jawbone Fitness Tracker, Jawbone (2011)
Wearable company Jawbone was once valued at more than $3B. However, intense competition in the wearables market and a protracted legal battle with dominant incumbent FitBit resulted in considerable financial losses that ultimately sank the company.
Jawbone, which was founded as AliphCom in 1999, originally developed military-grade audio hardware before moving into the consumer market with its popular Bluetooth-enabled wireless speaker. Jawbone diversified once again in 2011 when it unveiled its fitness-tracker wearable.
Despite the popularity of Jawbone’s Bluetooth speakers, the company was beset by problems for more than a year prior to its closure. Jawbone struggled with inventory shortages and a series of high-profile executive departures, and customer service standards deteriorated as its legal battles wore on. The company finally entered liquidation in 2017.
Astro Pants, Lululemon (2013)
Yoga pants are designed to be form-fitting, but some models of pants and leggings from the yoga gear giant proved to be a bit too revealing, becoming translucent when wearers bent over. Inflammatory remarks from Lululemon‘s founder Chip Wilson only exacerbated the public relations fiasco. Wilson later issued an apology and the company issued a recall.
Fuel Band, Nike (2014)
Nike’s wearable fitness tracker was well-received by reviewers, but failed to find a following with consumers, accounting for just 10% of the market 2 years after its release in 2012. By April 2014, Nike had fired most of the team behind Fuel.
Kanoa Wireless Headphones, Kanoa (2015)
Many companies dread negative reviews, but it’s rare that a single bad review can tank an entire company. Yet this is essentially what happened to Kanoa, manufacturer of wireless headphones that ultimately never saw the light of day.
Kanoa’s problems began in 2015. Despite having met its crowdfunding goals, the company could not produce a prototype that matched the standards it had promised backers. After essentially starting over from scratch in 2016, Kanoa sent a pair of its headphones to an influential YouTube technology reviewer Cody Crouch, also known as iTwe4kz.
Crouch’s video was a scathing analysis of the product’s many failures. It shows the headphones repeatedly failing to connect to Crouch’s phone, and the charging case not charging the headphones’ battery even when connected directly. However, the final nail in Kanoa’s coffin was Crouch’s claim that the company tried to bribe him with $500 for a more favorable review.
Four days after Crouch posted his review, Kanoa ceased operations. Very few of Kanoa’s backers received refunds of their pledges.
FitBit Force, FitBit (2014)
This version of the popular FitBit activity-tracking device was causing skin irritation and even blisters so severe that it resulted in a class-action lawsuit in California.
Disposable Underwear and Pantyhose, Bic (1998)
While Bic’s pens, razors, and lighters were cheap and ubiquitous, consumers just couldn’t make the jump to buying disposable undies and tights from the same company. Whether it was the name brand or the fact that they were disposable, either way, this brand extension didn’t stick.
Xybernaut Poma Wearable PC, Xybernaut and Hitachi (2002)
This early-stage wearable had failure written all over it, boasting clunky hardware, poor performance, Windows CE only, and a $1,500 price tag, but the worst thing about this piece of wearable hardware is that you can’t possibly wear it out of the house.
Automotive & Transportation
Flights to nowhere, Singapore Airlines (2020)
At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Singapore Airlines (SIA) dreamed up a way to allow Singaporeans to fly without violating travel restrictions: flights to nowhere. These 3-hour scenic flights would take off from and land at Singapore’s Changi Airport.
Source: Singapore Airlines
However, the campaign quickly came under fire from environmentalist groups, with one saying, “It encourages carbon-intensive travel for no good reason.”
SIA was prudent enough to ditch the plan before it ever got off the ground, although that didn’t stop it from seeking innovation elsewhere. For instance, it turned one of its aircraft into a restaurant that sat on the tarmac. It also began offering take-away meal kits — because who doesn’t want to reheat airplane food at home?
Tata Nano, Tata Motors (2008)
In 2008, Indian car manufacturer Tata Motors launched the Tata Nano, an ultra-compact hatchback designed specifically for the domestic Indian market.
Tata Motors launched the Nano with motorcyclists in mind. To appeal to them, Tata manufactured the Nano as inexpensively as possible; the Nano was priced at 100,000 rupees, or approximately $2,500 in 2008 dollars. The company hoped the Nano’s compact design and low price would make it a popular choice with residents of urban areas, many of whom relied on motorcycles and mopeds for personal transportation.
However, the low price tag led to numerous cut corners in production, which resulted in serious safety flaws. Reports of Nanos bursting into flames after rear collisions were common in the months after the vehicle’s debut. Tata ultimately sold fewer than 8,000 Nanos before pulling the vehicle from the market entirely.
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.
Bikes, Smith & Wesson (2002)
Firearms maker 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.
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: in 2016, DMC Texas received federal approve to produce about 50 new DeLoreans a year.
Segway, Segway Inc. (2001)
These two-wheeled, self-balancing Segway scooters looked dumb and cost a fortune, so when they didn’t catch on with any audience besides mall cops, no one was surprised. Now reserved for mall cops only.
After nearly 2 decades of manufacturing, segways were officially discontinued in June 2020.
Cimarron, Cadillac (1982)
Many of these flops were born of legacy companies looking to change to stay competitive or relevant. The Cimarron was Cadillac’s attempt to scale down their famously huge cars in favor of something smaller and more fuel-efficient. The result was underwhelming on all fronts: small, boxy, and outclassed by foreign luxury cars. It pleased no one and was phased out after six years in production (probably five too many).
Pinto, Ford (1970)
Sometimes a flop is born from laziness or oversight, in this case bordering on criminal negligence, as Ford went with shoddy materials in this car that notoriously burst into flames when struck from behind. It was revealed later that a simple upgraded part in production would have prevented the lethal accidents and fixing all the faulty models on the road ultimately cost the auto giant more than it’d spent producing the cars itself.
Aztek, Pontiac (2001)
Possibly seeking to emulate stylistically the pyramids of the culture that is its namesake, the Aztek suffered from an unappealing design that some consumers thought looked too much like a minivan, leading to low sales and a short production run (4 years).
X-90, Suzuki (1997)
On paper, the Suzuki X-90 doesn’t sound like such a bad idea: a compact, two-door SUV, seemingly perfect for two-person adventures. It handled poorly and its unorthodox styling was widely regarded as “ugly,” as evidenced by its sales record of 7,000 units over its three-year production run.
Murano CrossCabriolet, Nissan (2011-2014)
Nissan’s Murano has been a fairly successful crossover SUV, but the short-lived convertible variant was anything but. Seemingly combining the worst elements of an SUV and a convertible (including strange body styling and poor rear visibility with the top up), the CrossCabriolet started its life as a concept car before heading to factories and then to dealer lots. It retailed for a hefty $48,000, found few takers over its four years in production, and was discontinued in 2014.
EV1, General Motors (1996-1999)
General Motors beat everyone — even Elon Musk’s Tesla — to the punch by creating the first mass-produced electric car from a major global automaker back in 1996. The problem: the EV1 was only available in California and Arizona because cold climates were harmful to battery life and performance. Customers also couldn’t buy the car, and instead had to lease it for $500/month. GM only sold 1,117 units over the course of 4 years before completely scrapping the model.
DH 106 Comet, de Havilland (1949)
The world’s first commercial jetliner first took off in 1949 as a prototype and debuted commercially in 1952. Though it was promising as a comfortable, pressurized passenger cabin, the Comet suffered a number of catastrophic failures within a year, including structural failure. The Comet was taken off the market and tested. The company eventually launched an improved Comet 2, Comet 3 and Comet 4, but sales never recovered from the initial setback.
Hoverboards seemed like the next big thing, until they started exploding. Thousands of hoverboards from at least eight brands were recalled in 2017 because the lithium-ion batteries in the devices caught fire. But the problems were occurring well before that, as several airlines banned hoverboards altogether in 2015.
Coda Sedan, Coda Automotive (2012)
Once upon a time, industry observers believed that Coda Automotive had the potential to be a major player in the independent electric car marketplace as a moderately priced alternative to Tesla. During its run, the company raised about $300M in equity funding and even inked a deal with Enterprise to make its cars available for rent.
Alas, its first and only vehicle, the 2012 Coda Sedan, was a total flop. The company had hoped to save costs on amenities and instead focus on the range that the car could drive without being re-charged. The result was a “really ugly” vehicle that was uncomfortable to drive and featured broken airbags that necessitated a recall.
Coda Automotive would file for bankruptcy in May 2013, after selling just 100 cars.
Facebook Phone, Facebook (2013)
Almost any product would have failed to live up to the hype that surrounded the Facebook Phone. What the public got instead was the HTC First, an Android-skinned device whose main feature was being geared toward 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.
Newton, Apple (1993)
Revolutionary for its time, Apple‘s handheld PDA pinned its hopes on handwriting recognition. Jobs himself reportedly hated it, saying of the device’s stylus input device: “God gave us ten styluses … let’s not invent another.”
Fire Phone, Amazon (2014)
Amazon‘s 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.
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.
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.
Zune, Microsoft (2006)
Microsoft’s “me too” mp3 player was too late to the iPod party. It played music relatively well, but its special features (including sharing songs with other Zune owners nearby) just weren’t enough to beat Apple’s sleek iPod.
Pippin, Apple (1995)
Apple’s only attempt at a gaming console tried to do too much: games, web browsing, and educational applications. Apple 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.
ViewSonic Airpanel Smart Display V110, Microsoft (2003)
A tablet that could only work when connected to a desktop computer. Enough said.
Umi, Cisco (2010)
Cisco‘s Umi was a $600 set-top box that allowed for video calls via TV, but had a monthly fee of $25 and couldn’t compete with Skype and FaceTime.
Touchpad, HP (2011)
Following Apple’s unveiling of the iPad in 2010, dozens of companies released tablets of their own. HP launched its TouchPad in July 2011 — and discontinued after only 6 months.
Sales of the device, which ran on HP’s proprietary webOS operating system, were disappointing. The product was largely ignored by the tech press in favor of Apple’s iPad 2, which went on sale in March 2011.
Just 25,000 of the TouchPad’s initial 270,000-unit run were sold, prompting HP to dramatically reduce the price of the HP TouchPad in August. Retailers sold out of the significantly cheaper tablets almost immediately, but the product was ultimately discontinued.
Rokr E1, Motorola and Apple (2005)
Before the iPhone, Apple partnered with Motorola to make a phone that also played music, but what it got wasn’t very good at either. A 100-song capacity and lack of ability to download songs via the web were the death knell for this iPhone precursor.
Cue Cat Barcode Scanner, Digital Convergence Corporation (1999)
Back when people still read print magazines, the idea was that you’d use this oddly-shaped device to scan barcodes in said magazines, then plug it into your computer with a USB cable, and then the Cue Cat would direct your browser to a URL derived from said device.
Nexus Q, Google (2012)
This weird black orb thing was a media device that could connect to your TV and speakers and stream a list of various music tracks and YouTube videos that you and your friends co-created. It only played Google-approved content (YouTube and music) and just couldn’t compete with other media-streaming offerings like Apple TV.
Kin One and Kin Two, Microsoft (2010)
Ultrabook, Intel (2012)
Intel‘s would-be competitor to the MacBook was sleek and powerful, but too expensive for PC buyers (who are used to lower sticker prices compared to Apple) and didn’t have what it took to steal market share from Apple.
Betamax, Sony (1975)
Despite having better quality recordings, when Sony‘s Betamax and VHS went toe-to-toe, only VHS caught on with manufacturers. VHS players were cheaper to produce, which appealed to consumers. Tape length was also an issue: from their release in 1976, VHS tapes could hold two hours, meaning that most movies could fit on one tape; Betamax was capped at an hour in 1975 (only expanded to two in the early 80s). These issues and a host of other challenges contributed to an uphill battle that Betamax eventually lost.
LaserDisc, Philips (1978)
Betamax vs. VHS might have had a chance of going the other way, but LaserDisc by Philips never seemed to have a shot. These big, bulky proto-DVDs were more expensive than VCRs and studios just weren’t pressing content onto them.
eVilla, Sony (2001)
Just when computers were starting to take off, Sony came out with this “internet appliance,” which is, just like it sounds, a device made solely to connect to the internet. It looked awful and cost $499 (plus a $21.95 monthly internet access fee), all of which the company refunded to customers when it realized the extent of its failure.
QuickTake Camera, Apple (1994)
This might have been one of the earliest digital cameras, but a $600 price tag, the lack of zoom controls or an in-camera display (so you couldn’t see what your picture looked like until you’d moved it over to your computer), and an 8-photo capacity made this .3-megapixel unit a must-miss piece of tech.
Lisa, Apple (1983)
One of the first computers with a graphical user interface, the original Lisa underwent massive changes during its development and came out with a $10,000 price tag and serious performance issues. Numerous updates and improved models followed, but sales never rivaled the much cheaper Macintosh and it was discontinued in 1986.
Mobile ESPN, ESPN (2006)
This idea almost seems bound to fail from the jump: a clunky flip phone (introduced in 2006) with a lousy interface set up to only receive sports information from ESPN. It cost $300 for the phone and monthly plans started at $65, prices consumers just weren’t willing to pay.
HD DVD, Toshiba (2006)
HD DVD’s tech specs were put in place in 2002, but the format wasn’t abandoned fully until 2008. For a few years, discs in multiple formats (DVD, HD DVD, and Blu Ray) were being released, skirmishing in homes and stores all around us, a silent battle few knew was raging. But Toshiba knew it, hemorrhaging money to the tune of $1B before eventually giving up on the format.
Nook, Barnes & Noble (2009)
Brick-and-mortar booksellers started having an uphill battle the minute Amazon came out with its still-leading Kindle, but B&N was determined not to go out without a fight. Enter the Nook, its attempt at staying relevant and maybe even reclaiming some of its lost market share from the online retailer. Some models were even reportedly good, but between Kindle’s massive first-mover advantage and B&N’s failure to properly position the product and prove itself as more than just a place for physical books, this e-reader never found a following.
MD Audio, Sony (1990s)
Sony loves the format wars. This entry was an audio format competitor to CDs, but without read-write or computer compatibility, a pretty big miss even in the 90s, when music was just starting to make the digital migration that would eventually become its future (mp3s, streaming, etc.). Consumers wisely avoided this format.
DIVX, Circuit City (1998)
The brainchild of Circuit City (itself a brand that couldn’t keep up with the rapid changes in commerce in a post-Amazon world), DIVX discs were sort of one-way rentals that also couldn’t compete with that new thing called Netflix. How it worked was, you bought a DIVX player (which only Circuit City would sell you), then rented/bought the DIVX discs and watched the videos on them for up to two days. After that, you could just toss the discs out or pay an additional fee to continue watching them.
Iridium Satellite Phones, Iridium (1998)
Sometimes an idea fails because it’s ahead of its time. Iridium launched 66 linked satellites into orbit to use for its satellite phone network. Now come the downsides: dollars-per-minute usage rates (ouch) and a cellphone reportedly the size of a brick.
Digital Audio Tapes, Sony (1987)
DATs were supposed to replace conventional audio tapes and allow higher-quality recordings. Ironically, the music industry was concerned about piracy and didn’t want the public to have access to a high-quality read-writable format … like … mp3s?
Sapphire iPhone Screens, Apple and GT Advanced Technologies (2014)
Apple’s iPhone 6 was originally supposed to come complete with super-tough Sapphire screens, but the process for making them (bake giant bricks of sapphire in a furnace for a month, then slice them into sheets for the phones) killed the product before it could launch. Between that insane fabrication method and Apple’s famously demanding production schedules, the Sapphire screen had no chance.
PCJr, IBM (1984)
Source: Hosting Canada
IBM‘s first foray into the home PC world was a substantial flop (ironic considering that for at least a decade or two, all non-Apple computers would be called “IBMs” or “IBM compatible,” regardless of manufacturer). While there were plenty of weaknesses to harp on, probably the biggest flaw was its chiclet-style keyboard, which reviewers reported was near unusable.
Mac G4 Cube, Apple (1999)
Apple’s ambitious cube crammed a full PC into a little package that no one much cared for, though it did open the door for similar compact computers. It was plagued by overheating, case cracking, and was underpowered to boot, a triple-threat that consumers passed on.
Disc 4000, Kodak (1982)
Living in an era of way-too-many cameras, it’s worth remembering a time when they were expensive, valued, and needed to be filled with this stuff called “film.” Kodak’s “Disc 4000” model used a disc of film instead of the usual rolls. The thinking behind the disc was that it’d be easier for consumers to use. Instead it turned out photos that were small and blurry. Despite the film’s flaws (and production of the camera itself being discontinued by the 1989), the now-defunct film company continued producing the discs for it until 1998.
NW-HD1 Audio Player, Sony (2004)
Another entrant in the perennial format wars, this music player was almost a good idea with a slick aluminum casing and a small size for the 20 gigs of memory it held. The format was the problem, though: it only played a proprietary format, ATRAC3. No mp3s, no WAVs, and no WMAs meant no sales.
JooJoo Tablet, TechCrunch/Fusion Garage (2010)
The JooJoo Tablet was envisioned as an open-source, Linux-based, preemptive strike against the iPad. Originally called the CrunchPad and backed by TechCrunch founder Mike Arrington, the tablet’s proposed features and $200 price point were enough to get the critics excited. But its development, with Singapore startup Fusion Garage, was rocky from the start. Early prototypes were encouraging, but the estimated price kept creeping up, eventually hitting $500 for a tablet with a 4-gig hard drive vs. the original iPad, whose cheapest offering was $499 with 16 gigs of storage. The troubled product launched March 25, 2010, just weeks before the iPad came out and set the bar for all future tablets. The internal strife, high price point, weak specs, and lack of app support ultimately doomed this early tablet.
Airboard, Sony (2004)
The Sony Airboard was, unwittingly, another pre-iPad attempt at building a tablet. Launched in 2004, the Airboard boasted wireless streaming TV and internet access, but at $1,300 the price was far too high for what was likely seen as as an expensive portable TV. Sony abandoned the product completely in 2008.
Galaxy Note 7, Samsung (2016)
Few corporate flops on this list have been as explosive as this one. Launched in August of 2016, the Note 7 boasted powerful hardware and had consumers chomping at the bit to get their hands on them. The anticipation quickly faded, though, as reports of Note 7s catching fire started hitting the news. By September 2, Samsung had stopped sales of the device. Next came a formal recall in the US on September 15 and a worldwide recall on October 10. The product was completely abandoned on October 11.
Mercedes Home Battery Pack, Mercedes-Benz (2017-2018)
Daimler, parent of the Mercedes-Benz car brand, decided that it would go after the US home energy market. It teamed up with Vivint, which installs solar systems, and marketed an energy storage battery that looked quite a bit like Tesla’s Powerwall system. Like the Powerwall, the Mercedes-Benz battery was intended to store energy from solar panels. The major flaw in solar power is that it obviously is basically produced during the day and in sunny weather, so storage systems are needed if electricity is to be generated at other times.
However, in April 2018, Mercedes-Benz announced that it was dissolving the US subsidiary set up to run this home energy business and ceasing manufacturing of home battery packs globally. What happened to the would-be Tesla killer? It was expensive for the market, and basically over-served its customers. One Daimler spokesperson told Greentech Media: “It’s not necessary to have a car battery at home: They don’t move, they don’t freeze. It’s over-designed.”
Blackberry Storm, Blackberry (2008)
In 2008, Verizon looked to Blackberry to develop an “iPhone killer.” The result was the Storm, a touchscreen-enabled smartphone with a “clickable” screen. Users could navigate with touch, then click the entire screen down like a button to make choices. But faulty tech and bugs in the software doomed the phone from the start. The majority of Storms that did sell were quickly returned, and the phone was shelved later the same year.
Juicero, Juicero (2013)
Juicero was a California-based startup that raised $120M for its fresh-squeezed juice device. But after it was found that its $400, Wi-Fi-enabled machines were no more effective at making juice than squeezing the pre-packaged fruit with your hands, the company shut down within months of its launch.
Keurig KOLD, Keurig (2016)
The well-known coffee maker tried to get into the at-home soda machine market, but failed big time. For one, its machine was $369 compared to $79 for SodaStream. The Keurig pods themselves were also expensive, ranging from $3.99 to $4.99 for a pack of four. Each pod made an 8 oz glass of soda. Users complained that the machine was too loud and took a long time to cool down. The company pulled the product.
Google Nexus One, Google/HTC (2010)
Designed by HTC, the Nexus One was Google’s foray into selling phones. Rumors of a GooglePhone had persisted for years, so enthusiasm for the Nexus One, which was announced in early 2010, was high. Google said it would sell the phones directly either unlocked or locked to T-Mobile. The problem is that unlocked phones are not the norm in North America where networks generally subsidize part of the cost. Users balked at the $530 price tag, and those who did buy the phone were unhappy with Google’s lack of customer support.
Windows Phone, Microsoft (2010)
Microsoft was late to the smartphone game, and it never quite caught up. Three years after the iPhone took the world by storm, Microsoft debuted the Windows Phone, but to limited fanfare. Android phones had also been on the market for around two years, further increasing the competitive landscape for Microsoft’s device. The Windows Phone represented less than 1% of the total smartphone market in 2017, according to Recode — Microsoft discontinued development of new features for the device that same year.
Facebook Portal, Facebook (2018)
Facebook Portal was released in 2018 as a standalone device designed to help people hold better video conferences. With computer vision AI and an auto-zoom feature, the Portal was able to follow people as they moved to better frame the video shot.
The device was released just 8 months after the Cambridge Analytica scandal that embroiled Facebook, and consumers were suspicious of adding a Facebook camera to their living rooms. As Recode put it in its October 2018 review, “Facebook could improve video calls. The question is whether people will let it.”
The answer so far has been a resounding “no.” Facebook initially said that the devices wouldn’t collect data for ad targeting, but reversed this statement shortly afterward, acknowledging that data from the devices could be used to inform the ads Portal owners see on other Facebook properties. Sales remained “very low” through the device’s first year, according to Fast Company, with some sources suggesting Facebook shipped as few as 54,000 units of the product’s first iteration.
Facebook released a smaller, second-generation version of the device in September 2019. It remains to be seen whether global social distancing in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak will spark a surge in sales.
Consumer Packaged Goods & Toiletries
Pond’s Toothpaste, Unilever (2012)
Pond’s is one of America’s oldest cosmetics brands, but when it launched a toothpaste in 2012, its customers couldn’t get on board.
Ironically, the toothpaste itself wasn’t the problem — though most consumers failed to distinguish Pond’s toothpaste from Colgate’s — it was the Pond’s brand. Customers so strongly associated Pond’s with beauty and skincare products that they weren’t accepting of a different product. The toothpaste was eventually pulled off the shelves.
Persil Power Detergent, Unilever (1990s)
A laundry detergent so powerful that it destroyed stains … and clothes.
Touch of Yogurt Shampoo, Bristol-Myers Squibb (1979)
Yogurt is one of those things that is usually thought of (in the US, anyway) as just sort of generally healthy and good for you, without much scrutiny or rigor. That was likely the “wisdom” behind integrating the foodstuff into this beauty product, which was reportedly consumed by some unlucky customers who saw “yogurt” on the packaging and decided that the reasonable thing to do was taste it.
Smokeless Cigarettes, RJ Reynolds (1989)
In an era when second-hand smoke and not the exhalations of vapers was the primary concern of smokers and non-smokers alike, RJ Reynolds aimed to eliminate second-hand smoke and thus preserve or even expand its customer base by delivering a smokeless cigarette. It worked by burning a charcoal lump at the end of the plastic tube which was pretty much impossible to light and, according to RJ Reynold’s own CEO, “tasted like sh*t.”
Cheetos Lip Balm, Cheetos (2005)
Getting Cheeto dust all over your lips (and fingers, and keyboard, and literally everything else) is easily the worst part of eating Cheetos, so the idea of purposefully smearing your lips with something Cheeto-scented/flavored clearly didn’t appeal to many.
Cologne, Harley Davidson (1990)
Harley Davidson cologne shows that not just tech and fast food companies can overextend themselves with an off-the-wall product. Whatever smells one might associate with the venerable motorcycle company, even the most committed biker was likely not clamoring for a branded cologne. Especially not one with the slogan, “The scent of freedom,” and which, according to one description, possessed “Top notes [of] bergamot and mint … [and a base of] patchouli and sandalwood.”
Amopé Electronic Foot File, Reckitt-Benckiser Group (2016)
The Amopé electronic foot file, marketed under the Scholl name outside the US market, has dragged down the consumer packaged goods giant that also owns well-known brands like Lysol. The foot file was marketed by model Chrissy Teigen, but sales fell flat for the rechargeable $65 gadget, and because of poor results, retailers also scaled back on display area from adjacent products from Reckitt.
In fact, the foot file had such a bad impact on the company that the CEO singled it out during an earnings call. “On gadgets I would say, we have been badly burned,” said Rakesh Kapoor. “It has been a terrible, terrible model.” Perhaps Reckitt will go back to new sizes and packaging to boost sales instead of trying to innovate with gadgets. Or perhaps it needs to go back to the gadget drawing board. The foot file is still available … for now.
Thirsty Cat! and Thirsty Dog! (1994)
Pets can be so picky when it comes to drinking water. At least that’s what the creators of this bottled water for pets had in mind. The company infused bottled water with vitamins and flavors — crispy beef (for dogs) and tangy fish (for cats). Not enough people were willing to spend their money on bottled water for their pets, while others believed the product was a joke.
Flouride toothpaste, Bofors (1950s)
Bofors, a Swedish weapons manufacturer once owned by Alfred Nobel, added toothpaste to its product list in the 1950s. The toothpaste contained microscopic plastic balls meant to clean and whiten teeth, but a rumor that those balls could remain in the body for months and even cause cancer doomed the product from the start.
Rejuvenique Face Mask, Rejuvenique (1999)
This mask, released in 1999, was supposed to beautify and make the wearer appear younger through mild electric shocks to the face. It was meant to “exercise” the facial muscles, thus plumping the face and ridding it of wrinkles.
Parfum Bic, Bic (1989-1990)
The company known for ballpoint pens and lighters tried to enter the fragrance industry in 1989, launching a drugstore perfume with $20M of marketing support behind it. Consumers were wary, and the fragrance was dumped just a year later, after losing close to $11M.
Bic for Her, Bic (2012)
Bic received heaps of derision in 2012 when it launched a line of Bic for Her pens designed specifically for women. Advertised as being built for women’s comfort and available in colors such as pink and purple, many consumers considered the product to be sexist and its Amazon page attracted a slew of mocking reviews — with some satirically suggesting that they would need their husbands’ or fathers’ permission to buy the pens.
US Football League, Donald Trump and Others (1982)
Football league competitor to the NFL, created in 1982 and headed up by none other than Donald Trump himself. It originally played in the spring and summer to avoid competing directly against the NFL. Riddled with problems from the outset, it eventually started turning around, just in time for “The Donald” himself to crash it right into the ground by … trying to compete directly with the NFL. Several cities’ teams folded immediately, feeling they couldn’t go head-to-head with the NFL teams already in their cities. Date of death: spring 1985.
XFL, WWE & NBC (2001)
With high-risk rule changes and raunchy language, the XFL promised an extreme, smash-mouth alternative to the NFL.
The league debuted in 2001 as a joint venture between World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and NBC, and for a brief moment, it seemed like it might take off. The opening contest, between the Las Vegas Outlaws and the New York/New Jersey Hitmen, began with a fiery speech from WWE CEO Vince McMahon and garnered over 15M views.
However, the quality of the league’s players was simply not on par with the NFL, and viewers caught on quickly. Within a month, viewership had dropped by about 75%.
Though the XFL shuttered its doors after only 1 season, it was an innovator of several TV production techniques, such as the Skycam, that were later adopted by the NFL.
McMahon would go on to create a new, more conventional XFL in 2018. However, the league suspended its inaugural 2020 season due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
MoviePass launched as a subscription movie ticket service in 2011, but its rise and fall began in August 2017, when it ditched its tiered pricing structure to offer a $9.95 monthly pass that allowed consumers to see 1 movie per day in theaters.
According to company co-founder Stacy Spikes, the new price was intended to be a short-term deal to spike subscriptions, but MoviePass executives decided to keep it after the service surged in popularity. The company had signed up 1M subscribers by the end of the year, eventually peaking at over 3M.
Even at the time, many people speculated that the company’s offer was too good to be true, and this would eventually prove to be correct. Because the company was losing money hand-over-fist, it began, in Spring 2018, to alter its business model with fewer movies and more restrictions.
Consumers left the company in response, with subscriptions dropping from over 3M to about 225,000 by April 2019, according to Business Insider. 5 months later, MoviePass announced it was shutting down.
While the company failed, it did inspire major theater chains like AMC to introduce their own cost-effective subscription passes.
Food & Beverage
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.
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.
Dasani Water, Nestle (2004)
Though Dasani is one of the leading bottled water brands in the United States, this is not the case for its European counterpart.
Dasani was launched in the United Kingdom in 2004. However, before the product even made it to shelves, the brand was rocked by a wave of negative media coverage after it was revealed that Dasani was simply tap water that had been bottled at a factory in Sidcup, a suburb in Kent.
Dasani’s woes didn’t end there — in March 2004, Britain’s Food Standards Agency detected bromate, a suspected carcinogen, in the bottled water. Authorities believed the chemical was added during the filtration process. Coca-Cola, which owns the Dasani brand, had planned to launch the product across continental Europe but ultimately canceled in light of the disastrous launch in the UK.
Crystal Pepsi, PepsiCo (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.
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.
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.
Arch Deluxe, McDonalds (1996)
A McDonalds burger with cheese, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, ketchup, and mayonnaise-dijon mustard sauce on a potato roll. Designed for adults, it never found an audience (the Big Mac was cheaper at the time).
Cocaine, Redux Beverages (2007)
Toaster Eggs, Downyflake (1970s)
The launch of Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts in 1964 was part of a broader shift in consumer tastes toward quick and easy breakfast foods; but Pop-Tarts were far from the only product vying for a place in America’s toasters every morning.
Best known for its waffles, frozen-food manufacturer Downyflake released Toaster Eggs, a precooked egg-based food product that was prepared in a toaster like a Pop-Tart, in the 1970s.
According to Downyflake, Toaster Eggs were “Not scrambled, not an omelet, but a new interesting half way in between” that came in 4 flavors: Plain, Cheddar Cheese, Country Style, and Western. Despite the convenience promised by the idea of cooking eggs in a toaster, it wasn’t sufficiently enticing to the American consumer, and the product was quickly discontinued.
Brewed Coffee in a Box, Maxwell House (1990)
Way before the start of the cold-brew craze, Maxwell House pioneered selling consumers pre-brewed coffee in a cardboard carton. Missing the obvious opportunity to corner the iced coffee market, it doubled down by advertising that consumers enjoy it hot. Customers were seemingly unwilling to take the extra step of pouring a mug of coffee, then heating it up (at that point, why not just brew some real coffee?), and those who chose to try to microwave the entire package were in for a nasty surprise: the carton was foil-lined.
Mazagran, Starbucks/PepsiCo (1995)
This carbonated, coffee-soda beverage had spiced and citrus notes and reportedly split consumers into for and against camps almost immediately. It never found an audience to appease the coffee giant or the soda empire that birthed it, but proved that people would buy Starbucks drinks in a can or bottle, of which there are no shortage today.
Zima, Coors Brewing Company (1993)
Part of the 90s “clear craze” that also birthed Crystal Pepsi and Tab Clear, this non-beer alcoholic bottled beverage was designed to compete with the successful wine cooler category. It was reportedly lemon-lime-flavored and astoundingly managed to stay in production until 2008 when it was discontinued in the US.
FourLoko, Phusion Projects/Drink Four Brewing Company (2005)
This one was an unfortunate hit with hard-partying youths: booze and caffeine. It kept you drunk and wired for as long as you could stomach the dangerous beverage, which put more than a few consumers in the hospital. Maybe not technically a flop, because sales of the “blackout in a can” spiked when the FDA banned its original booze-and-caffeine formula (savvy consumers and speculators alike hastily stockpiled remaining cans) and the company released a caffeine-less formulation (currently available), it’s nonetheless a cautionary tale about over-innovating (and over-consuming).
Life Savers Soda, Life Savers (1980s)
EZ Squirt Ketchup, Heinz (2006)
The idea was simple enough: take ketchup, traditionally some shade of red, and turn it different colors through the magic of science. Seeing as how ketchup is the beloved condiment of choice for kids of all ages, this seemed like an easy win, and for a while it was, driving Heinz‘s market share above 60% for the first time ever. The novelty wore off quickly and though it remained in production for 6 years, this house on fire had long since burned out.
Pepsi AM, PepsiCo (1989)
This ambitious Pepsi variant contained more caffeine than the usual formula and targeted the “breakfast cola drinker.” It lasted just one year.
Orbitz, Clearly Canadian Beverage Company (1997)
Kitchen Entrees, Colgate (1982)
Colgate’s frozen meals failed to find a niche with consumers. The conventional wisdom here is that when people hear “Colgate,” they think “toothpaste,” the opposite thought you want them to have when buying frozen dinners.
Mighty Wings, McDonalds (2013)
No one thinks of wings when they think of McDonalds, which is why even though the wings were reportedly pretty tasty, the burger giant still had 10M tons of unsold, frozen chicken wings to try to get rid of after the initial run of the ill-fated product. The surplus prompted a deep discount followed by discontinuation.
Campbell’s Souper Combo, Campbell’s (1989)
In 1989, Campbell’s hit upon a scheme to feed (and profit off of) hordes of office-jockies, latchkey kids, and singles, by selling them soup and a sandwich in one (frozen) package that they could microwave and then eat. Unsurprisingly, this one-person depression-in-a-box combo didn’t find a foothold.
Yogurt, Cosmo (1999)
Yogurt, for whatever reason, seems to be disproportionately marketed toward women, so it might have made a certain kind of sense to the team at Cosmo that decided to try to slap the Cosmo brand on some yogurt and see if it sold. It didn’t. Shelves were stripped of this spurious product in six weeks.
The McDLT, McDonalds (1980s)
The McDLT deconstructed the fast-food hamburger, traditionally served pre-assembled, and boldly told consumers, “You put this together!” The twin Styrofoam package contained the hot portion of the sandwich (bottom bun and burger) on one side and the cold items on the other. The consumer would then, theoretically, assemble the bits of the sandwich together at a later time so that they could enjoy their still-crisp lettuce and tomato. Burger lovers passed on this unwanted innovation.
Grilled Cheese Burger, Friendly’s (2010)
P’zone, Pizza Hut (2003)
Trump Steaks, Donald Trump (2007)
Watermelon Oreos, Oreo (2013-14)
Flavored Oreos can be great (golden, birthday cake, reverse, etc.) but these just went too far. This weird flavor combination failed to find a following with consumers. It was only available for a limited time anyway, which was just as well.
Rocky Mountain Sparkling Water, Coors Brewing Company (1990)
In 1990, Coors Brewing Company launched its Coors Rocky Mountain Sparkling Water in an attempt to capitalize on the growing bottled water market. The product failed to gain traction, most likely due to consumer hesitation and confusion about the potential alcohol content of Coors’ latest beverage; though the sparkling water contained no alcohol, the packaging featured Coors’ logo prominently.
Breakfast Mates, Kellogg’s (1998)
Raspberry-Filled Donuts, Krispy Kreme
In 2016, a California man filed suit against the donut chain after he learned that its raspberry-filled donuts were not the shining paragons of nutrition he once believed them to be. The suit alleged that, because the donuts are not made with real fruit, the consumer was denied vitamins he might otherwise have received had the filling been genuine. While the donuts have not officially been discontinued, this lawsuit could impact Krispy Kreme’s fruit-filled offerings in the future.
Frescata, Wendy’s (2006)
Wendy’s‘ claim to fame is its “always-fresh, never-frozen” beef. But the Frescata showed it that even with a commitment to fresh ingredients, people really don’t want a cold cut sandwich from any place except a sandwich shop. The burger chain tried to capture more diners with these ciabatta roll creations, but they never caught on, maybe partially due to the added fact that they actually took longer to prepare than a burger.
Frito-Lay Lemonade, PepsiCo (1998)
When you’re eating salty snacks, you need a thirst quencher to follow suit. At least that was PepsiCo’s idea when it launched a lemonade drink. But instead of using its own brand name, PepsiCo used a subsidiary: Frito-Lay. Consumers (who only associated the company’s brand with chips) didn’t bite, and the product was quickly shelved.
Hannah Montana Cherries, Disney (2009)
In 2009, Disney tried a little too hard to capitalize on Miley Cyrus’ popularity by branding fruit with her Hannah Montana character. For some reason, the company chose cherries. After the idea was met with headlines calling it an inappropriate and bad idea, the product was quickly scrapped.
Blak, Coca-Cola (2006)
Attempting to capture the booming premium coffee market, Coca-Cola launched a coffee/cola hybrid in 2006. The taste left much to be desired, and consumers failed to jump on the bandwagon, leaving Coca-Cola to pull the product shortly after release.
Tropicana, PepsiCo (2009)
Tropicana, which is owned by PepsiCo, invested $35M in an advertising campaign that included a change to its classic packaging design. The reaction to the new packaging, introduced in Jan 2009, was swift. Sales dropped by 20% in two months, a $30M loss. That’s when the company said it would return to its old packaging. In all, the ill-fated rebranding cost the company more than $50M.
Pepsi Blue, PepsiCo (2002)
Introduced in 2002, Pepsi Blue was supposed to compete with Vanilla Coke. Despite heavy spending on advertisements, including Britney Spears, the product didn’t catch on. One of the problems was the color; the use of Blue 1 food coloring is banned in some countries. Pepsi discontinued the product in 2004, though it is still available in some countries.
Coca-Cola Vio, Coca-Cola (2009)
Coca-Cola is one of the most popular soft drinks in the world, but the same can’t be said of all the company’s beverage products. The carbonated milk drink Vio launched in the US market in 2009 and failed rapidly. Comprised of milk, carbonated water, and fruit flavoring, Vio reportedly never even received a full US market launch — though the company has since launched the brand in India.
Crucible, Amazon (2020)
Over the past decade, Amazon has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to develop its video game studio and capture a bigger slice of the entertainment industry.
And 6 years in the making, its first big-budget original game, Crucible, was meant to be the world’s introduction to Amazon as a gaming powerhouse.
Source: Amazon Game Studios / Relentless
Designed as an online, multiplayer shooter, Crucible resembled free-to-play games like Fortnite and League of Legends, which rely on attracting large numbers of users to generate revenue from ads or in-game sales.
When it launched in May 2020, Crucible had about 25,000 gamers playing at the same time. But within 2 days, that number had dropped to below 5,000. By July 2020, Amazon had pulled the game from stores and put it into closed beta for testing.
Ultimately, Crucible didn’t do any one thing well. In an attempt to reach as many types of players as possible, it imitated the game modes found in other popular shooters, but it never found a way to stand out.
By November 2020, Amazon had canceled the game altogether.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (video game), 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 4M cartridges, of which 2.5M 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 the 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.
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.
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 1993 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.
Virtual Boy, Nintendo (1995)
PS Vita, Sony (2011)
Sony’s fist handheld, the Playstation Portable, sold almost 81M 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.
Intellivision, Mattel (1979)
Development for this sort-of-ahead-of-its-time console began less than a year after the Atari 2600’s. This was back in the days before anyone knew what a video game system or company was supposed to be or would turn into, so a children’s toymaker like Mattel getting into video games probably seemed less odd then than it does to us now. Intellivision was the world’s first 16-bit video game system, featured voice synthesis, and even let you download new games. It was killed by poor marketing, an insufficient controller, and a broader crash in the North American video gaming industry in the early 1980s.
Philips CD-i, Philips (1991)
From our position of privilege in the future, where Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo are pretty much the only gaming hardware producers, it’s easy for us to declare all competitors in gaming hardware … misguided. But in 1991, Philips could have been forgiven for throwing its hat into the ring with a gaming console. What it couldn’t be forgiven for was the $700 price tag and lack of decent games.
Nokia N-Gage, Nokia (2003)
Back in 2003, we weren’t all playing games on our phones. You still had to have two different devices: one for games and one for making calls. Nokia‘s N-Gage was an attempt at combining phones and gaming, it was just a bad one: it looked awful, cost $300, and you had to take the back case off and the battery out to change games.
PSP Go, PlayStation (2009)
The PSP performed admirably, despite its weird format choice of UMDs for its games. The Go was smaller and sleeker, but lacked the ability to use UMDs, so there was little incentive for PSP fans to “upgrade” to this one. Go also had a weak catalog at the exact moment when phone games were storming onto the scene, trampling this underwhelming console beneath their heels.
Wii U, Nintendo (2012 — 2016)
While a few Wii U consoles were still being produced early in 2017 in the Japanese market, the system that marked a low point in Nintendo’s corporate history was effectively killed at the end of 2016. The Wii U was a resounding failure. The Wii U sold only about 13.6M units in its entire lifetime. Meanwhile, the Nintendo Switch, its successor, launched in 2017 and has become a tremendous hit.
What made the Wii U so unlovable? It was a relatively complicated system with a UI that wasn’t up to the already mobile-influenced user standards of the time. It failed to innovate on its predecessors’ introduction of physical play and motion as an integral aspect of gaming. It also had relatively few hit titles tied to it once the buzz around launch titles had dissipated, so enthusiasm wore off. Nintendo’s huge success with the Switch, a whole new type of console that is portable and is being bolstered by a succession of hit games, shows the Japanese company learned its lessons well.
Too Human (video game), Silicon Knights (2008)
Launched in 2008 by gaming company Silicon Knights, the video game was supposed to be the first in a trilogy, but met with many obstacles. It was stuck in development for ten years, involved a lawsuit between Epic and Silicon Knights, followed by a successful countersuit by Epic that forced the game to be pulled from the Xbox Marketplace. Today the game is regarded as one of the worst flops in video game history.
PlayStation Classic, Sony (2018)
The PlayStation Classic was released in 2018 as a miniature remake of the original 1994 PlayStation console.
While Nintendo has seen success in selling similar remakes of its Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Nintendo Entertainment System, the PlayStation Classic failed to generate the same fervor. Originally released in December 2018 at a price point of $99.99, the system now sells for less than half of that.
Early reviews questioned the selection of games — classics like Crash Bandicoot and Tomb Raider were not included — as well as the absence of new features like wireless controllers. These factors, combined with the high price point, seem to have dissuaded gamers from purchasing the system en masse.
Ben-Gay Aspirin, Pfizer (1990s)
Pfizer‘s Ben-Gay, best known for its topical pain relief gels, attempted to branch out beyond its core product in the mid-‘90s by producing its own aspirin.
Ben-Gay Aspirin lacked the icy-hot sensation of the company’s balm, but the association was too powerful in the minds of American consumers, and the product ultimately failed.
Relenza, GlaxoSmithKline (1999)
Seen as the literal antidote to avian flu concerns in 1999, Relenza seemed poised to be a cash cow in the pharmaceutical world. It was both cheaper and had better efficacy rates than its sole competitor, Tamiflu. But it never lived up to its hype: Relenza’s numerous warnings and powder form (administered via a “diskhaler” that aggravated respiratory problems in some patients) bogged down the new flu remedy, and Relenza’s sales lagged.
While Tamilfu raked in $770M in the first quarter of 2006, Relenza only gained $13M in revenue.
Software & Technology
Tay, Microsoft (2016)
There have been plenty of instances of artificial intelligence gone wrong, but few flamed out as quickly — or visibly — as Tay, a Microsoft Twitter bot. Launched in March 2016, Tay was able to integrate and build on other users’ tweets to speak.
Within hours of going live, Twitter users began flooding Tay with hateful language. True to its nature, Tay learned quickly, not only repeating what it heard but also coming up with its own wildly offensive remarks.
Within 2 days, Microsoft had taken Tay offline. Tay’s Twitter profile is still private.
Watson for Oncology, IBM (2012)
In 2012, IBM partnered with Memorial Sloan-Kettering (MSK) Cancer Center to train its Watson supercomputer to provide cancer treatment recommendations based on the hospital’s research and patient data.
The potential impact for patients seemed transformative — that is, until Watson started giving out bad advice. For instance, it suggested that a patient use a medication that could worsen their already severe bleeding. (MSK claims this suggestion was hypothetical and not given to a real patient.)
The problems stemmed from Watson’s training, which mostly relied on hypothetical cancer cases — instead of real patients’ experiences — as well as on the treatment recommendations of just 1 or 2 doctors.
Fortunately, it appears no patients were harmed as a result of Watson’s recommendations.
Facebook Home, Facebook (2013)
In an attempt to make use of — and presumably, monetize — the vacant space on consumers’ mobile device lock screens, Facebook developed a UI layer product called Home in 2013. The idea behind Home was that, while not in use, users’ lock screens would display a feed of updates from their Facebook account. Users could also open apps directly from Home.
However, even enthusiastic Facebook users found Home to be confusing at best and intrusive at worst. The app had an average rating of just 2.5 stars out of 5 on the Google Play Store hours after launch. Although Facebook tried to improve the product and address user concerns in a series of updates, Home disappeared from the Play store less than a year after its launch.
Google+, Google (2011-2019)
Google+ isn’t the only social outing on this list from the search giant, but it’s probably its highest-profile disappointment. A closed launch made invites a hot commodity for about a week. Then Google discarded the restrained invitation model, throwing open the doors in an attempt to build a user base that never lived up to its expectations of creating a possible Facebook competitor. Google+ was shuttered permanently on April 2, 2019.
Amazon Local, Amazon (2011-2015)
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 2015.
Facebook Deals, Facebook (2011)
Amazon isn’t the only tech giant that showed it could throw its hat in the ring for daily/local deals way later than was prudent. Facebook did the same thing in 2011, but the social giant shuttered the concept a scant four months later.
Flooz, Flooz (1999-2001)
Late 1990s dot-com venture Flooz tried to bring reward points to e-commerce businesses.
Flooz — which derived its name from the Arabic word fuloos, meaning “money” — was similar to frequent flyer mile programs operated by major airlines. Users could acquire Flooz tokens either by purchasing them directly or by earning them from making purchases from participating retailers. These points could then be redeemed against other purchases.
The company’s biggest problem was adoption. Uptake of Flooz was slow, and the number of participating e-commerce retailers initially was limited, which further hampered growth.
Flooz’s fate was sealed when the FBI began looking into claims that Russian organized crime syndicates were subverting Flooz as a means to launder money for criminal operations. The site and service shut down permanently in 2001.
Windows Vista, Microsoft (2007)
Windows XP had been the Windows version for five years when Vista hit the scene, so many customers were loathe to change over. Even more so when reviews revealed that the new OS was less user-friendly than XP. This led to users paying to have their Vista systems downgraded back to XP and Microsoft admitting its mistake and allowing computer manufacturers to offer XP on new computers. It hastened production on Windows 7.
Qwikster, Netflix (2011)
Just as Netflix‘s streaming service was beginning to take off, CEO Reed Hastings hit upon a plan to wring more money from consumers who wanted to continue receiving DVDs in the mail a la the service’s original process. His solution: rebrand the mailing option as “Qwikster” and require users to register (and pay) for both services. It was a PR nightmare and the idea was dropped weeks later.
BOB, Microsoft (1995)
Joost, Joost (2007)
Founded by the guys behind Kazaa and Skype, Joost was supposed to deliver content at near-TV quality via a peer-to-peer format. Despite financial backing, an innovative technological concept, and some early content deals with the likes of Viacom and others, a lack of international rights and pullouts by content providers ultimately hamstrung this fledgling service.
Google Lively, Google (2008)
This was a knockoff of Second Life, the 3D virtual world simulator where you can create an avatar of almost any description and then proceed to do whatever you want. Google’s failed attempt came out about five years after Second Life had hit the scene and was already developing a strong following. Commentators blame Lively’s failure on its Windows-only format and lack of marketing.
eWorld, Apple/AOL (1994)
In 1994, people still didn’t know what the online world would look like or grow into, but it wasn’t Apple and AOL‘s huggable-looking cartoon world, which encompassed bulletin boards, chatrooms, and more in an easy-to-use interface … that no one ever heard about. Apple’s CEO at the time, Michael Spindler, declined to promote the service and charged high fees for those who did dare to use it.
Wave, Google (2009)
Wave was an ambitious platform designed to keep people connected as a combination text and social media platform. The clunky interface and lack of an audience saw this product shelved about a year after its release.
WebTV, WebTV Networks (1996)
This turned your TV into a low-grade web-surfing computer, but in 1996, there wasn’t enough to do online to make casual consumers pay for this or the monthly fee.
Mylo, Sony (2006-2010)
The Mylo was Sony’s bid for the disposable income of a generation of teenagers: an instant-messaging and internet-browsing device, which must have seemed awesome(ish?) in the four months between when the Mylo hit shelves in September 2006 and January 2007 when Steve Jobs announced the iPhone. Short for “My Life Online,” the device used only Wi-Fi (no cellular connection) and even sported a physical keyboard. The kicker? It retailed for $349 at launch, and that was with a whole gigabyte of storage.
Allo, Google (2016-2018)
Google has tried again and again to field a viable messaging alternative to Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, or Apple’s iMessage, and it has failed each time. The latest casualty is Allo, which launched in September 2016. After less than two years pushing Allo, Google announced in April 2018 that it was “pausing” development of the app in favor of a new messaging effort called “Chat.” This means Allo is effectively dead, even if it is supported for a few more years. Google’s own head of messaging Anil Sabharwal admitted that Allo didn’t even come close to meeting Google’s hopes. “We set out to build this thing, that it [would be] a product that we would get hundreds of millions of people to get excited about and use,” he told The Verge. “And where we are, we’re not feeling like we’re on that trajectory.”
Why did Allo fail? To begin with, it did not have the advantage of being the default messenger on Android phones. Google had to push users to download it, and this was difficult, given the traction other platforms had already gained. Plus, Allo had no real differentiating features. It was basically just another good-enough messaging app. In the end, only 50M people downloaded it, The Verge reported. Allo’s failure can be seen as another Google defeat in the field of social apps. It’s not just messaging that has been a third rail for Google. More broadly, social apps have been a problem. From Google+ to Google Wave to Google Buzz (see above), and now Allo, Google can’t seem to build social platforms. It seems Google is better at delivering services like search, advertising, email, and maps, than it is at content and connecting people.
Carousel and Mailbox, Dropbox (2014-2016)
In 2014, Dropbox decided it had a shot at becoming a consumer app platform. It would leverage its millions of users who relied on it for safe online storage of their files and offer them new services on top of that. One of these new apps was Carousel, which aimed to become the central photo archive for users. Another one was Mailbox, an email app. The problem was that Dropbox users didn’t look to Dropbox for added service, and Carousel and Mailbox did little that couldn’t be done in apps fielded by Google, Apple, Microsoft, and even Facebook.
The failure of Dropbox’s “app constellation” turned out to be a lesson in how competing with tech’s Big 5 is an uphill battle. Product releases from the big tech companies simply took all the air out of the room. Not every product can grow into a platform, and Dropbox learned that lesson thanks to Carousel and Mailbox. More recently, Dropbox has refocused on its core competency as a cloud storage app, and improved its traction in the business-to-business market. Its IPO in 2018 revealed a cloud storage company generating $1.1B in revenue in 2017, and $68M in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization.
MeeGo, Nokia/Intel (2011)
As Apple iOS and Android took over the smartphone operating system landscape, Nokia, one the behemoths of the cell phone industry, looked poised to sit idly by. But then, in 2011, it introduced the Nokia N9 — the first and only device to run on the MeeGo operating system.
Created in partnership with Intel, MeeGo boasted slim system requirements, an intuitive touch interface, message hubs, and multitasking. For a moment, it looked as if the duo had created a prime contender.
But Nokia never gave it the push it needed. The company’s CEO quickly dumped MeeGo and opted instead for the Windows 7 operating system, and MeeGo fell by the wayside.
In 2006, Jeff Taylor (founder of Monster.com) had a new idea: create a social media platform for baby boomers. The site (eons.com) marketed toward boomers and internet users 40+. A few users created profiles on the site, but it never took off, and was eventually sold to Continuum Crew, an advertising and marketing agency that targets mature consumers. In 2012, the site shut down.
The Daily, News Corp (2011-2012)
Media mogul Rupert Murdoch thought he’d leverage the growing tablet craze by launching a tablet-only newspaper. After dumping nearly $30M into the project, News Corp launched The Daily in February 2011. Originally only available on the iPad, the 99-cent virtual newspaper picked up little traction among subscribers, and eventually branched out to the Kindle and other tablets. But still, less than two years later, The Daily was shuttered.
Knol, Google (2008-2012)
Meant to displace Wikipedia as the internet’s go-to encyclopedia of knowledge, Knol aimed to pay experts to write articles about their area of expertise. Instead it became, as one reviewer wrote, a “wasteland of plagiarism, ignorance, self-promotion, and bias.”
Early Bird, Twitter (2010)
Source: Corporate Eye
Following the bandwagon of group-buying sites such as Groupon, Twitter’s Early Bird had great intentions to offer special deals and discounts to its users. Twitter set up an account, @earlybird, and started tweeting exclusive offers. The problem was that there was no difference between what Twitter was doing versus any other third party. The deals weren’t targeted in any way. The company pulled the account soon after, saying it needed to be reworked and rethought.
Hot Wheels and Barbie Computers, Mattel/Patriot Computers (1999)
The idea here was to slide away from old-school toys (Barbies and Hot Wheels) and toward CD-ROM and computer users. The computers from Patriot Computer Corporation were riddled with manufacturing issues, which the Toronto-based company put a bulk of its resources into fixing, which then drove it out of business. But not before Mattel took thousands of orders for the holiday season, orders which were never filled. The countless unhappy customers, who had each paid $599, received a $100 gift certificate for their troubles.
AIBO, Sony (1999-2005)
Who wants a robotic dog? Put your hands down, the answer is everyone. AIBO was a robotic dog by Sony that could respond to 100 commands and speak. This excited the public, who bought up Sony’s first brood (in 1999) of 3,000 units in less than a half hour. However, despite continuing to release new versions until 2005 and garnering a strong cult following, these companion robots never became a money-maker for the electronics giant. Sony finally ceased supporting the robotic creatures in 2006. That year, Dr. Toshitada Doi, godfather of the program that birthed AIBO, staged a mock funeral for his creation, declaring that the experimental spirit that AIBO represented at Sony had died.
Coolest Cooler, Coolest (2014)
The Coolest Cooler was supposed to be a beach enthusiast’s ideal accessory. Combining a spacious cooler, built-in blender, cutting board, Bluetooth speaker, and a USB charger into a single unit, the Coolest Cooler fully intended to live up to its name.
The Coolest Cooler was funded through crowdfunding site Kickstarter, quickly becoming one of the site’s most popular and fastest-funded projects. But the project was beset with difficulties almost from the start, including poor communication with project backers, significant price increases, and claims of worker strikes delaying manufacturing. Ultimately, more than 20,000 of the product’s 36,000 backers did not receive their cooler.
Backers were furious. One particularly disgruntled backer doxxed the product’s executives, which led to death threats being made against Coolest’s marketing director, Susan Towers. Despite the project’s disastrous journey, Coolest is still manufacturing and selling its flagship coolers through its own site and Amazon to “keep the lights on.” The product is currently listed as indefinitely out of stock on Amazon.
Corfam, DuPont (1963)
When DuPont introduced its leather alternative in 1963, the company predicted that within twenty years, a quarter of all US shoes would be made with the product. The problem: Corfam’s rigidness meant any shoes made out of it were extremely uncomfortable. DuPont’s dreams of overhauling the shoe industry were soon scrapped, and Corfam was soon dubbed “DuPont’s $100 million Edsel.”
Astrocolor, American Airlines/Bell & Howell (1961)
Source: 2 Oceans Vibe
In-flight entertainment systems gained popularity in the 1960s and American Airlines hired Bell & Howell to design something that could compete with TWA’s single screen system. Astrocolor featured a series of 17-inch screens on the plane. The problem was that this was before VHS or DVD, so the film involved very long 16mm celluloid film, which ran almost the entire length of the plane. The system was difficult to use and the high failure rate — about 20% — angered many passengers.
Smell-o-Vision and AromaRama (1950s)
Source: 2 Oceans Vibe
In a bid to bring and keep viewers in theaters, the film industry experimented with new technology after TV became popular in the 1950s. One of these experiments sought to sync scents with films. AromaRama pumped scents into the movie theater through the air conditioning system while Smell-O-Vision released scents from vents placed under the seats so viewers could “smell” what was happening in the movies. Neither was well received.
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