5 Products That Failed and Why

Big corporations launch countless new products every year. Some of the products are highly successful, such as the iPhone. However, not every new strategy or product launch goes so well, even if there's a big-name company behind it. Below are five of the biggest product flops and failures by large companies.

1. New Coke

New Coke is 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 or 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 an estimated cost of at least $150 million for the massive ad campaign in 1996. The company sold it as a more sophisticated option for consumers–hoping to appeal to adults. It turned out that sophisticated adult fare was 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—has been a popular item that has developed a loyal and vocal following.

4. Ben-Gay Aspirin

Having a big name behind a new product doesn't guarantee success, and sometimes it can even be a hindrance, particularly if the brand is too closely tied to a single product or image. Ben-Gay is most known for its unique, strong smell and its pain-relieving balm's warming sensation upon contact with skin.

Unfortunately, the attributes of Ben-Gay didn't fit with the company's aspirin product originally launched by Pfizer. The Ben-Gay brand name was so firmly associated with the burning cream that many consumers couldn't stomach the idea of swallowing Ben-Gay aspirin. As a result, the product failed.

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.

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  1. Coca-Cola. "History." Accessed July 1, 2021.

  2. The New York Times. "Chief of McDonald's Defends Arch Deluxe to Franchisees." Accessed July 1, 2021.

  3. AdAge. "McD's MBX to Knock Out Arch Deluxe: 'Whopper Stopper' Ready to Roll As U.S. Sales Show Signs of Revival." (Login required.) Accessed July 1, 2021.

  4. The New York Times. "McDonald's Profit up 1.9%, But U.S. Sales Are Still Slow." Accessed July 1, 2021.

  5. Microsoft Corporation. "Form 10-Q for December 31, 2008," Pages 30-31. Accessed July 1, 2021.