5 Epic Product Fails and the Lessons They Can Teach Your Small Business
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
No matter how diligently you prepare when you launch a new product, you can never guarantee success. In my own area of product design, for instance, I've seen powerful principles of psychology guide a particular design . But I've also seen even the most successful packaging efforts suffer the occasional flop.
Related: This Museum Is Dedicated to Failures
Want to guide your own product to a successful launch and profitable life? Learn from the hard-won lessons of five absolutely epic product fails.
1. Orbitz (1997-1997)
Remember Orbitz soda? Neither did I, at the start of this research.
In 1997, Orbitz appeared on shelves and was then subsequently discontinued -- within a year. So what went wrong? Orbitz was a non-carbonated fruit beverage filled with suspended balls of gelatin. Bottles of Orbitz looked like mini lava lamps.
Creative packaging design can lead to a successful product, but the product itself must also perform the job for which it was designed.
Sadly, the taste and texture of Orbitz soda left something to be desired. Was this the result of the use of gellan gum – a substance that helped keep the small gel balls afloat? Or was it the strange flavor combinations like "Vanilla Orange" or "Pineapple Banana Cherry Coconut"?
Whatever the cause, people may have been fascinated by Orbitz’s appearance, but no one wanted to drink it.
The lesson: A clever gimmick can’t make up for a poor product. You may capture consumers’ attention and make an initial sale with a clever gimmick. But, without the product performance to back it up, word will quickly spread and your sales will fall.
2. Juicero (2016-2017)
The Juicero was an adequately functional but overhyped juice press.
The business shuttered in September of 2017 – less than six months after two Bloomberg reporters revealed that the Juicero press need not be used to create juice from the proprietary Juicero juice packs. A person could simply squeeze the packs by hand.
The New York Times’ David Gelles may have summed it up best when he wrote that, “The company sold a $700 wi-fi-enabled juicer, trying to solve a problem that did not exist.”
The lesson: Don’t be redundant. And … especially don’t be redundant and unnecessarily expensive. When considering a new product idea, ask yourself if there is a simpler, less expensive solution to the problem you’re solving. If your product brings an overly complex solution to a problem that already has a simple fix, it may be time to rethink your approach.
3. Microsoft Zune (2006-2012)
In 2001, Apple launched the iPod, and the way we listen to music changed forever. While other mp3 music players existed before the iPod, the other players achieved only a middling success. Enter the Zune in 2006: Microsoft’s bid to go head to head with Apple’s iPod.
Sadly, despite the backing of a world-renowned tech giant, the Zune was ill-equipped to compete. Even Microsoft’s former chief of its home entertainment and mobile division, Robbie Bach, later confessed that there was simply no reason for someone to buy a Zune.
The Zune was never able to make much of a dent in Apple’s astronomical 77 percent market share, and finally surrendered in 2012.
The lesson: As the old saying goes, don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. Microsoft’s Zune failed because it did just that, metaphorically speaking. If you intend to compete in a sector dominated by an established product, make sure your product is bold enough, unique enough and strong enough to really compete.
4. New Coke (1985-2002)
In 1985, Pepsi was breathing down Coke’s neck. The competition was getting stiffer and Coke was losing market share to PepsiCo. To fight back, Coke decided to experiment with its classic recipe by making it sweeter -- like Pepsi.
The result became known as New Coke; and it replaced the Coca-Cola recipe everyone had known and loved for the past 99 years.
The cola-drinking public was not amused. The backlash was swift and merciless. Coke was forced to bring back its original formula -- now called Coca-Cola Classic -- only 77 days after New Coke was released.
While the two beverages remained on the shelves together until “New Coke” was discontinued in North America in 2002, New Coke’s legacy is still one of failure to this day.
The first lesson: Lean into your brand. Don’t give up what makes your brand unique, trying to be a second-rate version of another brand. Coke made the mistake of trying to be more like its competitor. And, when it did that, it offended its brand loyalists. So, make sure your products are the best representatives of your brand that they can be.
The second lesson: Learn from your mistakes. When Coke’s fans demanded the classic formula back, Coke listened. And when Coke Classic returned, it was more popular than ever. Listen to your customers and quickly fix your missteps.
5. Apple’s Newton MessagePad (1993-1998)
Believe it or not, Apple wasn’t always the bullet-proof tech behemoth it is today. The tech giant, in fact, has had a few epic fails of its own, including its very first tablet -- the Newton MessagePad.
According to MacWorld, the MessagePad was terrible at handwriting recognition -- its core method of input. Consumers could not justify spending $700 on a computerized notepad that didn’t work as well as a pad of paper.
The lesson: Make sure your product does what it claims to do. Delivering on your promises is vitally important to maintaining a brand’s positive reputation. You stand to lose sales and trust in your brand if your product doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to.
Look to the past to find your future.
You put your money and your business on the line every time you launch a new product or service. So, yes, you can close your eyes, cross your fingers and hope it all works out … Or, you can do everything in your power to make the best choices.
Remember to learn from the past when planning your future products.