25 Biggest Product Launch Disasters Through the Years
It might seem easy to market a new product successfully, but there are countless things that can go wrong in either development or promotion. Whether it was a flawed concept, inflated price tag, or just a product no one needed, here are a few of the most memorable U.S. product failures.
Year Launched: 2017
An Internet-connected device that makes healthy beverages from single-serving fruit and veggie packets, the Juicero initially cost $700. Upon release it was discovered the packets could be squeezed by hand, without the bulky, costly device.
Year Launched: 2011
Google tried to make its social network seem successful by touting its early growth, but after its release even one of the company's senior engineers criticized the platform publicly as a complete failure. The site was redesigned in 2015, the same year an independent study found 90 percent of people with Google+ profiles had never posted on the platform.
Year Launched: 2006
Year Killed: 2013
ESPN tried to create a mobile experience for fans -- who would have to buy a special cellular device for $300 and then spend at least $65 monthly on content. The company invested $150 million and reached only 6 percent of its sales target, then replaced it in 2007 with ESPN MVP, which operated until 2013.
Year Launched: 2006
Year Killed: 2007
Redux Beverages made a bold choice to market an energy drink containing more than three times the caffeine as Red Bull under the name Cocaine, not-so-subtly advertising itself as an alternative to the illegal drug. When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration took issue, Redux renamed the drink -- first as Censored, then as Insert Name Here.
Year Launched: 2005
Combining malt liquor, caffeine, and fruity flavoring, Four Loko gained popularity among 20-something drinkers, but the company landed in hot water for allegedly targeting the underage and for potentially dangerous effects. Multiple states banned it in 2010 after injuries at universities, and the company released a caffeine-free version following an FDA warning.
Year Launched: 2004
Year Killed: 2007
Coca-Cola courted male consumers with a $50 million advertising campaign for C2, which had half the calories but supposedly the same taste as Coke. But C2 sales were low, and seemed to cannibalize sales of other Coke products. The company had far more success with Coke Zero, introduced the following year.
Year Launched: 2004 Instead of music, Febreze's CD player-esque device was designed to emit scents over half-hour cycles, but sales were hobbled by a confusing marketing campaign that focused on the endorsement of Shania Twain -- a musician. The players and scent discs still sell online.
Year Launched: 2002
Coca-Cola's bottled water was first advertised as bottled "spunk" in the U.K., oblivious that the term is local slang for semen. Matters worsened when consumers found out the water was purified from a London-area tap, not natural springs, and again when authorities discovered high levels of a carcinogen in it. Coke withdrew the product there and shelved plans to sell in mainland Europe.
Year Launched: 2001
Renowned inventor Dean Kamen's secret product was described as an alternative to the automobile, so it didn't quite live up to expectations when consumers saw it was a high-tech motorized scooter costing $5,000. Only 24,000 sold in its first five years, far less than the forecast 10,000 per week.
Year Launched: 1999
Year Killed: 2000
Women's magazine Cosmopolitan, known for dubious sex advice, decided to expand its brand with a line of yogurt. The unusual brand extension, with steeper prices than traditional yogurts, was discontinued after only 18 months.
Year Launched: 1998
These fat-free potato chips from Frito-Lay sold well in their first year, but sales plummeted by 2000, when it was discovered they caused abdominal cramping and diarrhea due to the presence of the ingredient Olestra. The FDA slapped a warning label on the chips, but it was eventually removed and the brand name changed to "Light" chips -- with the stool-loosening Olestra still in the ingredients.
Year Launched: 1997
Year Killed: 1997
Not to be confused with the online travel service, this Canadian soft drink was made with floating chunks of gelatin that, combined with the bottle's shape, invited comparisons to a lava lamp. Consumers didn't care for the artificial taste or understand the marketing campaign about the drink's sci-fi origins, and it was pulled from shelves within a year.
Year Launched: 1995
Year Killed: 1995
Nintendo's shortest-lived gaming system -- lasting only six months -- was marketed for its VR-esque stereoscopic 3D graphics, but the garish headset made it impossible to see while playing the games, of which only 14 were ever produced.
Year Launched: 1993
Year Killed: 1998
Apple invented the phrase "personal digital assistant" to describe the handheld Newton, once poised to dominate a massive new mobile market. Instead, the device's most advertised feature -- handwriting recognition -- was lampooned for being ineffective. The software improved in later versions, but sales never recovered, and Steve Jobs canceled the platform.
Year Launched: 1996
Year Killed: 1996
McDonald's spent $150 million advertising this burger designed to capture a higher-end market of urban elites who wouldn't settle for the standard Big Mac. But the intended audience didn't buy that McDonald's could be truly high-end -- and it didn't buy the new burger.
Year Launched: 1992
Year Killed: 1993
Mattel's goal was to update Barbie's friend for current styles, but the resulting purple vest, blond highlights, and single earring resembled a gay caricature. The community embraced "Gay Ken" and bought him in record numbers, but the doll was recalled by year's end due to the controversial public perception.
Year Launched: 1991
Year Killed: 2008
MillerCoors is giving a limited relaunch to the alcoholic beverage Zima, a clear-colored alternative once marketed toward young men but embraced more by women (and teenagers, who found the smell harder to detect than beer). Bad PR resulted in plummeting sales and repeated lampooning by David Letterman.
Year Launched: 1990
Year Killed: 1992
Seeking to cash in on the bottled water market, Coors introduced its own brand of flavored sparkling water in a sleek silver bottle -- the design of which and prominent Coors logo understandably confused consumers. Had Coors distanced the water from its well-known brand, the product might have lasted more than two years.
Year Launched: 1989
Year Killed: 1991
Apple's first mobile computer was highly anticipated upon its release, but Apple neglected two crucial consumer considerations: price and weight. The Macintosh Portable cost $7,300 and required lead acid batteries, resulting in a 16-pound weight. It was replaced by the far more portable, and far more successful, Powerbook 100.
Year Launched: 1988
Year Killed: 1989
R.J. Reynolds sought to make a smokeless cigarette that would be more socially acceptable while appealing to health-conscious consumers. It spent more than $300 million developing Premier cigarettes, which were indeed smokeless but nearly impossible to light. Worse, smokers hated the taste. Premiers were discontinued less than a year after launch.
Year Launched: 1984
Year Killed: 1985
Fresh off the success of its IBM PC business computer, IBM sought to enter the home computer market. The IBM PCjr drew criticism for a difficult-to-use keyboard, $1,269 cost, and software compatibility issues, though, and an expensive keyboard replacement wasn't enough to save it.
Year Launched: 1982
Year Killed: 1982
Colgate found out the hard way that no one wants to associate dinners with the taste of toothpaste -- by releasing its own line of frozen, ready-made meals to eat before brushing your teeth with the same brand. The line was withdrawn within months.
Year Launched: 1979
Year Killed: 1979
This hair care product from Clairol made good use of yogurt's cosmetic benefits, but confused consumers by making "Yogurt" the largest words on the bottle. Yogurt-based and other natural shampoos have gained popularity, but Touch of Yogurt disappeared from shelves after some confused buyers fell ill from trying to eat it.
Year Launched: 1971
Year Killed: 1973
Brown-Forman, parent company of Jack Daniels, hoped to tap into an increased demand for clear liquors with Frost 8/80, dubbed the world's first dry, white whiskey and advertised as an all-purpose spirit for cocktails. Consumers just saw it as whiskey that had no flavor; slow sales led to its discontinuation after less than two years.
Year Launched: 1957
Year Killed: 1960
Ford promoted the release of the Edsel with vague but bold claims it was the car of the future, but the hype couldn't beat a widely criticized design, innovative but unexplained features, and shoddy workmanship, attributed to a decision not to create a manufacturing facility solely for the new division.