Smith and Wesson Mountain
A study commissioned by Smith and Wesson found
that brand awareness was so strong, the company
would consider S&W not only for handguns but for
other products as well. On the back of that glowing
recommendation, S&W decided to branch out into
mountain bikes. In fact, S&W had been
manufacturing bikes for law enforcement, security
and emergency response since 1997, and in 2002 it
took another step by offering the bikes to the
civilian market. They should have stuck to guns.
DeLorean Motor Company
John DeLorean was driven by a vision: to create the
car of the future, with future-appropriate
materials, functionality and style. Released in
1980, the DMC-12 was a status symbol, and only
8, 900 cars were ever made. Unfortunately in 1983
it came to light that John DeLorean was driven by
something else, too: drugs…
Switzerland’s national airline was once so financially
stable that it was known, appropriately for that nation
of financiers, as ‘the Flying Bank.’ After September
11, 2001, commercial aviation was one of the
casualties of the terrorist attacks on the USA, and
SwissAir was caught between two stools. In 2002 it
folded for good.
Commodore Computers – now forgotten by all but
nostalgic 80’s nerds – once towered over the 1980’s
computer market as the C64 once owned a near-50%
The company tried to innovate its way out of success by
releasing the Commodore +4, a faster, more powerful
version of the original C64 – that was also a lot more
expensive and handily incompatible with the C64
everyone already loved. The company finally went bust
Cosmo is one of the world’s most recognizable brands.
It dominates the women’s magazine market, and is
published in 36 languages and distributed in over 100
countries. At Cosmo, they are good at producing
magazines. They’re not so good at yogurt sales. The
idea was that Cosmo yogurt would be seen as a
sophisticated, slimming, glamorous snack for modern
women. However, the idea did not go as planned as it
was on the shelves less than 18 months before it was
WebTV offered consumers internet on the TV in the
mid-1990s. While it was prescient of WebTV’s
instigators to foresee that TV and the web would
one day be closely involved they got it all wrong
and suffered from the problems associated with
both spaces without the benefits of either. It soon
became clear that they had actually attracted
viewers who were not tech-savvy, like TV
audiences, but who produced no revenue, like web
audiences. What they did produce was an
inordinately large bill for customer services, and
eventually Microsoft bought the brand, killed it
humanely and it was reborn as MSN TV.
Life Savers Soda
Life Savers are the number one brand of non-chocolate candy
and mints in the USA, but that success didn’t rub off on Life
Saver Soda. Maybe it was a problem with the flavor? No, the
product scored well in taste tests. Maybe it was brand
recognition – after all, the soda market has some pretty heavy
hitters. Actually the opposite was true: customers recognized
it too well. ‘The Life Savers name,’ according to one brand
critic, ‘gave customers the impression they would be drinking
Coors Rocky Mountain Spring
The trouble with being a famous beer company is that
people associate you with beer, and the furthest thing
from beer is water. Rocky Mountain Spring Water really
was spring water from the Rocky Mountains, but Coors
customers just weren’t interested.
Cocaine Energy Drink
A drink that peps you up, and it’s got cocaine in it… this
sounds familiar. It even came in a red and white can.
Although the drink didn’t contain any actual cocaine, it did
have 3.5 times the caffeine content of Red Bull. It was
pulled by the FDA who said that Redux Beverages, the
drink’s producers, were ‘illegally marketing their drink as an
alternative to street drugs.’ It’s still available online and is
still sold in Europe.
Earring Magic Ken
Ken, Barbie’s smooth boyfriend, has been through
countless incarnations. Earring Magic Ken came
with a purple mesh T-shirt, shiny purple vest and
an earring. Both parents in more conservative areas
and comedy-minded gay people in less
conservative ones were soon making a fuss about
him. Mattel pulled him as fast as they could.
Colgate Kitchen Entrees
This is a repeat of the Coors blunder. What makes
food taste bad? Toothpaste. Toothpaste is the
opposite of food. Durex shouldn’t make pregnancy
tests; Coors shouldn’t try to minister to your
hangover; Colgate shouldn’t make food. Consumers
agreed and the product flopped hard.
Apple had the idea for the iPhone way back in 1993. Like Da
Vinci’s helicopter, though, the technology wasn’t there, and
the Newton was a white elephant; it cost $700 and up and
did nothing paper couldn’t do, except pave the way for
mobile internet browsing –but no-one knew that in
1993, except just maybe Steve Jobs.
Kellogg’s Breakfast mates
Breakfast Mates was a whole breakfast cereal experience in
a box. Cereal, milk and a spoon – all you had to do was mix
and eat. The product fell on its design flaws – aimed at
children, the packaging wasn’t child friendly, and while the
milk in it didn’t require refrigeration, no-one really likes
Pepsi AM and Crystal Pepsi
In the late 80s, Pepsi came up with the idea to
market a Pepsi variant as a natural coffee
substitute – both drinks are brown to black and
contain caffeine, so there’s no real
difference, right? Crystal Pepsi was Pepsi
without the coloring. Sales of Joe and regular
brown cola were unaffected and both products
trailed away to nothing.
Frito Lay Lemonade
Coors. Colgate. Frito Lay weren’t watching –or they
didn’t have a list like this one. Frito Lay make corn
chips, which are salty and make you thirsty. But when
people are shopping for lemonade they’re inexplicably
unattracted to a brand that reminds them of feeling
thirsty, and the product tanked.
Bottled Water for Pets
Thirsty Cat! And Thirsty Dog! Were produced on the
assumption that if people will shell out for
haircuts, clothes, goggles, and hats for their pets, they’ll
buy them bottled water too. But they won’t. Even if it’s
available in delicious flavors like Crispy Beef and Tangy
Fish? Especially not then.
Bic make disposable razors, lighters, pens… and
underwear? The product sank under a wave of public
confusion as people struggled to figure out why
disposable underwear was a good idea, and the other
products in the Bic range didn’t seem to auger well for
underwear. Perhaps people subconsciously worried that
they might be sharp, or leave marks, or be flammable;
whatever they did, they didn’t buy them.
Harley Davidson Perfume
Nothing says unreconstructed, all-American
masculinity like perfume. Meanwhile, when
customers were asked what they most wanted a
perfume to smell like, they overwhelmingly
answered, ‘motorcycles.’ Brand associations and a
backlash from fans of the brand did this one in.
RJ Reynolds’ Smokeless
In 1988, smoking was tipping over from being
fairly normal to being the exception, and the
company behind Camels decided to try out
Premier, a new brand of smokeless cigarettes.
Reporter Magazine said they ‘produced a smell
and a flavor that left users retching,’ and for a
while they seemed doomed. When a use was
finally found for them it was as a device for
smoking crack cocaine. The Premier brand was
stubbed out soon afterwards.
Betamax is by all accounts superior to VHS in
reproduction quality. But Sony was so eager to keep all
the pie to itself that it refused to license Betamax
technology, while VHS was licensed and many
companies produced VHS machines. Consumers had to
choose between being tied to one producer with a
limited number of titles, or VHS.
New Coke was intended by Coca-Cola top
replace original flavor Coke. The
widespread public fury this provoked
obliged Coca-Cola to resume production
of old Coke again quickly, and New Coke
has not been heard of since.
Pan Am was founded in 1927 and paved the way
for other commercial airlines. Pan Am was ahead
of the curve in luxury flights, international
flights, jumbo jets and was the first airline to use
its air staff as a PR focal point.
Pan Am was killed off partly by
deregulation, which exposed it to
undercutting, and partly by its own high profile.
Symbolizing America and highly accessible due to
its large fleet and international presence, Pan Am
made an ideal target for terrorists and the airline
closed in 1991.
Pets.com was supposed to ride the dotcom
boom, but instead came to symbolize every
mistake you can make doing business online.
Pets.com was known to everyone in the
country – as that company no-one you know
buys anything from. Its stock entered a fatal
nosedive in 2000 and the company hit the
floor Election Day that same year.
Polaroid defined photography as something
quick, immediate, fun – everything dark rooms
and lenses and developing fluid aren’t (to most
people). Polaroids went in family albums, in
wallets, on dorm room walls and teenagers’
wardrobes. Polaroid invented the selfie. But
when it became possible to do all this on
phones and tablets, Polaroid had no hope of
keeping up: it utterly dominated a niche that
had ceased to exist and in 2005 the pigment
dried on Polaroid for the last time.
Ford did everything right with the Edsel. They
carried out huge customer surveys to find out what
people wanted in a car, and then built that car.
And people hated it. Edsels were slow and
boring, underpowered and ugly. Ford couldn’t
produce them quickly enough at first – and then
couldn’t get rid of them. Finally the Edsel was
taken off the road in 1959, a year after it was
unveiled; it had cost Ford $250 million in 1959
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