Big corporations launch countless new products every year. Some recent high-profile successful launches include such diverse products as Apple's iPad and Pretzel M&Ms. But not every new strategy or product launch goes so well, even those that have a big-name company behind it. Here are some of the biggest flops and failures by huge companies. (For related reading, also check out Products With Surprisingly Low Markup.)
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1. New Coke
Often cited as the ultimate example of one of the most notorious product flops - and brand missteps - of all time, New Coke was launched in the mid-1980s by Coca Cola in an attempt to help the soda company stay ahead of competitors during the so-called "cola wars." Instead, it just annoyed consumers.
"The tacky way it was introduced made it seem as though the regular Coke drinkers mattered little to the company and a boycott was started," said Richard Laermer, CEO of RLM PR, a public relations firm New York City, and author of "2011: Trendspotting for the Next Decade".
New Coke was abandoned within a few weeks and the original version was then resurrected as "Classic Coke."
2. Crystal Pepsi
Pepsi introduced this clear cola in the early 1990s. Unlike other clear carbonated drinks, this one didn't have a lemon/lime flavor - yet it didn't quite have a normal cola flavor either. Despite a very expensive media blitz, this see-through soda just didn't catch on.
"Pepsi lost hundreds of millions guessing at straws, and they have never recovered fully," said Laermer. "This was an error competitors still learn from: don't amend a color that's acceptable!"
3. Arch Deluxe
McDonald's launched this new burger - at a estimated cost of at least $150 million for the massive ad campaign - in 1996, spinning it as a more sophisticated option for consumers and hoping to appeal to adults. Turns out, sophisticated adult fare is not necessarily a surefire hit with the fast food crowd.
An AdAge story in 1998 announcing the impending demise of the "ill-fated Arch Deluxe" seemed to imply the burger should have been yanked from the menu much sooner. A New York Times story in late 1997 cited the Arch Deluxe as a major factor leading to McDonald's sluggish financial growth the previous quarter. On the flip side, the company's McRib – a sandwich consisting of a pork patty in barbecue sauce that was recently reintroduced for a limited time - has been a popular item that has developed a loyal and vocal following.
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4. Ben-Gay Aspirin
Having a big name behind a new product doesn't guarantee success - and sometimes it can even be a hindrance, if the brand is too closely tied to a single product or image. Ben-Gay is most known for its unique strong smell - and this pain-relieving balm's warming/burning sensation upon contact with skin. Not exactly a good fit for the Ben-Gay aspirin product originally launched by Pfizer years ago. As an Entrepreneur article noted, while the products were associated in that they were designed for pain relief, people just couldn't get a taste for swallowing something made a brand they associated with a burning sensation. Ben-Gay made the fatal mistake of attaching a recognizable brand name to something totally out of character. (For an interesting read, see 5 Generic Products That Are Just As Good.)
5. The Zune
Microsoft first introduced this portable media player in 2006, with several new generations of the device to follow. The Zune faced several major challenges: namely, inevitable comparisons to the iPod, which rules the portable media marketplace, and the fact that its software is only available for Windows (so far). In a financial report covering the fiscal quarter ending in December 2008, Microsoft said Zune revenues had decreased by 54%, or $100 million. Laermer blames the bust on several factors, including software that was constantly changing and iPod's head start of several years in the market
The Bottom Line
As the old saying goes, there's no such thing as a sure thing. Not every concept - even those that seem promising in the development and research stages- can survive the marketplace. Even major, successful companies drop the ball once in a while. Luckily, most seem to bounce back from the failure - eventually. (For more articles on companies and their products, see 5 Companies That Changed Their Core Products.)
For the latest financial news, see Water Cooler Finance: Goodbye 2010 (And Good Riddance?)