Product Debuts That Flopped Big-Time

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We all have brainstorms that don’t work.

But some bad ideas are made into products that cost a lot of money to promote and then become embarrassing stomach problems.

Those products live on in our collective memory, a reminder that even highly paid CEOs and marketing gurus are capable of failing.

Here are some fantastic failures that sent their inventors back to the drawing board.

1. New Coke


Let’s crown New Coke as the king of all whoopsies.

When Coca-Cola introduced a reformulated soft drink in 1985, the company hoped to revive the brand.

Instead, cola consumers were overflowing with complaints. As the Coca-Cola Co. put it, the change spawned “consumer angst the likes of which no business has ever seen.” Just 79 days later, the company returned the original formula.

Since then, New Coke has become a prime example of the risks of tinkering with something that isn’t broken. The drink’s brief and turbulent life has even been repeated for lessons on marketing failure in business school.

In 2019, New Coke had the laughs, having a very brief promotional comeback tied to an appearance in Netflix’s 1980s-themed sci-fi series “Stranger Things”.

2. The Edsel


Poor poor Edsel. The car brand, produced by automaker Ford starting in 1957, was named after Edsel Ford, son of Ford Motor Co. founder. The famous Henry Ford.

However, now, it is included in certain dictionaries as a term for products that fail to gain public acceptance despite high expectations.

Some blamed the car’s unconventional appearance, particularly the vertical chrome oval on the front grille. Others blame mechanical problems — a joke went around that Edsel stands for “Every Day Something Else Leaks,” according to the Washington Post.

Ford stopped producing the car in 1959. But that was not the end of the story. Right now, an Edsel in mint condition can sell for up to six figures, says the Post.

3. Google Glass

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Created in 2011, Google Glass sounds like a science fiction film or novel.

The product resembles a strange pair of glasses. Its makers promote it as a wearable computer that can take photos, record video, and act as a GPS, among other things.

Amid product bugs, poor reviews, and concerns that Glass wearers could secretly record people in public places, Google shut down the original program in 2015, wrote The New York Times.

However, Google Glass never really went away. In 2019, MIT Technology Review reported the release of a new version, Glass Enterprise Edition 2, which will only be sold to businesses. Glass “is quietly gaining a foothold in a variety of industries, including logistics and manufacturing, providing hands-free access to information while people work,” the report said.

4. Pepsi Crystals

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In the 1970s, earth tones dominated design trends. The 1980s brought a neon glow.

And then came the 1990s, when the trend was going completely colorless – products that were evidently all over the place.

Crystal Pepsi, a see-through soda, led the way with the caffeine-free product it launched in 1993 with a big Super Bowl commercial splash.

Pepsi pulled soda pop off shelves in late 1994. Even its inventor said the Crystal Pepsi didn’t quite taste like the original Pepsi.

Crystal Pepsi brought back for a limited time in 2016 before fading into 1990s nostalgia, along with “Seinfeld” and grunge music.

5. Wow! potato chips

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Fat free potato chips? Enough to make consumers say “Wow!”

That’s the hope. But when Frito-Lay introduced Wow! chip in 1998, there is a problem.

The chips reportedly tasted like regular potato chips, achieving their fat-free status using olestra, a fat substitute, which Procter & Gamble marketed as Olean, the New York Times reported in 1999.

However, there are gut-level side effects that occur with excessive consumption of olestra in a short period of time which are, uh, hard on the stomach. As a result, the Food and Drug Administration required olestra products to carry what the Times called “the most unflattering food product label in history: ‘Olestra can cause cramping and bowel movements.'”

The FDA repealed the label requirement in 2003. But it was too late for Wow! chips.

6. Video game ‘ET the Extra-Terrestrial’


“ET the Extra-Terrestrial” was a blockbuster in cinema, winning four Academy Awards in 1983.

But the video game of the same name, designed for the Atari 2600 computer, has been called the worst video game ever. Game designer Howard Scott Warshaw only had five short weeks to develop the game. Apparently, it shows. Player refuses it.

A truckload of cartridges is buried in a landfill in the New Mexico desert – as documented by a film company excavating part of it in 2014.

7. Apple Newton

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Apple Inc. has created many stunning and world-changing products, including the iPhone.

The Apple Newton MessagePad was the company’s first attempt to create a handheld digital personal assistant or tablet computer. The Newton, equipped with a touchscreen, can be used to take notes, translate handwriting into text, and even send faxes.

Or can I? The handwritten translation works as well as trying to read your doctor’s messy scribbles – even “Doonesbury” mocked it in 1993.

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs hated Newton. It seals havoc, according to Wired magazine.

8. DeLoreans

Roman Vukolov /

The John DeLorean auto company made only one car model, the DeLorean of the same name, but thanks to “Back to the Future” many Americans recognized it.

The DeLorean’s famous gull-wing doors hinge to open on the roof of the car, making the vehicle stand out from the crowd.

The cars were built only for the 1981 to 1983 model years. There were quality control issues, and the car was underpowered, CNN recalls.

It didn’t help that John DeLorean was arrested in a drug smuggling case (he was later acquitted) and his company filed for bankruptcy.

The car that crashed might have been forgotten were it not for its use as a time machine in the popular 1985 film “Back to the Future” and its sequels.


Sergey Nivens/

Remember the Memphis Maniax? Los Angeles Xtreme? Chicago enforcers?

No? That’s understandable: It’s all the name of the team from the XFL, the defunct American football league that took the field for one season, back in 2001.

Half owned by NBC and half by the World Wrestling Federation (now WWE), the league is perhaps best remembered for letting teams allow players to put nicknames on their jerseys. Running back Rod Smart made himself famous by wearing “He Hate Me” on his Las Vegas Outlaws jersey.

The league deflated after one championship game and about a year of TV programming.

The new XFL launched in 2020, with teams like the Seattle Dragons, St. Louis Battlehawks, and the Tampa Bay Vipers. But then had to cancel the rest of the season as the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread. In April 2020, he filed for bankruptcy protection.

But wait. There’s a sequel. In August 2020, actor Duane “the Rock” Johnson and a group of investors purchased the league. They now hope to play again in 2023.

10. Microsoft Clippy

A frustrated man in front of his laptop computer while trying to work

Hey, looks like you’re writing an article about failed products. Do you want some help? Microsoft thinks you might.

Starting with Office for Windows, in 1997, Microsoft created an interactive virtual assistant that could appear in a user’s document on the screen to offer assistance. The default setting for the assistant is a paperclip named Clippit, nicknamed “Clippy”.

Clippy’s tendency to pop up and insert itself into users’ work is often more annoying than useful.

The company turned off Clippy’s default setting in 2001, and by 2002 was actively making fun of Clippy in its ads. He silently clipped off into the setting sun after that.

11. Betamax

Shapes in Pictures /

PC or Apple computer? Marvel or DC comics? VHS or Betamax? The VHS-versus-Betamax competition has found its place among some of the great debates of our time.

Both are formats that consumers use to watch and record videos. Betamax lost the format war.

According to PC Magazine, Betamax was introduced in 1975, and early cassettes contained only one hour of video. VHS came out a year later with a much longer recording time. The fight goes on.

As the magazine noted elsewhere, many users thought Betamax was the better format, but in the end, it didn’t matter. VHS was popular, and Betamax disappeared in the 1990s.

VHS fans could not linger. VHS was eventually replaced by DVD.

12. McDonald’s Arch Deluxe


In 1996, the fast food chain tried to classify its menu with the Arch Deluxe range of sandwiches which included burgers, chicken and fish. The Arch Deluxe burger, aimed at appealing to adult palates with its “secret” mustard and mayo sauce, is a marquee item.

Analysts estimate that development of the Arch Deluxe cheeseburger cost the company between $100 million and $200 million, the LA Times reports.

McDonald’s commercials boast that the burgers are not for children. Really, is that the best selling technique for a family restaurant? McDonald’s withdrew the product in the late 1990s, Business Insider reported.

13. Bic for the pen

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Of course, some products appeal to one gender more than the other. But you’d think a simple ballpoint pen was a unisex accessory.

When the Bic pen company came out with a Bic pen for him in 2012, the joke pretty much took the Bic pen and wrote it himself. Hilarious Amazon reviews change that concept.

The pen itself is designed in pastel colors but is otherwise unremarkable. The Bic for Her pen (later called the BIC Cristal for Her Ball Pen) is no longer being made, but you can check out its ultra-feminine packaging on Amazon.

14. Smell-O-Sight

Movie projector
Fer Gregory /

Hollywood movies have come a long way. Silent films were replaced by talkies, and black-and-white films were replaced by Technicolor. IMAX, 3-D, Dolby surround sound — they’ve all hit theaters.

However, some of the magic of the movies are ridiculous gimmicks. Case in point: the 1960 invention Smell-O-Vision and the similar Aroma-Rama, introduced in 1959.

As the American Movie Classics “The History of Film” recalls, theaters pumped relevant scents, such as snuff pipes or crushed wine, into theaters to accompany “flavorful” films. Only a few films take advantage of this trick.

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