The Top 10 Epic Fails in Product Launch History

October 22, 2009

We may be a consumer-driven society, but we can also be brutally fickle. As many companies have learned the hard way, the hearts and minds of consumers can sometimes be very difficult to win over. Even the best product ideas, when poorly executed, can quickly nosedive into abysmal commercial failures. But when the perfect storm of bad ideas and big money converge, we’re presented with the potential for failure on an epic scale.

Source: Pepsi-Cola

10. HD DVD

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Source: Toshiba

HD DVD fought a noble high definition disc format war with the eventual victor, Sony's Blu-ray. It was really an uphill battle for the format from the get-go, as the general feeling of "meh" from the consumer populace to high definition discs as a whole made either format a tough sell, especially considering the fact that upscaling DVD players cost a whole lot less than a new HD player and a whole new DVD collection, and high def streaming video is becoming a more and more viable option every day. Add to that the fact the Sony's newest PlayStation came with a built-in Blu-ray player, and HD DVD really had its work cut out for it.

But what really sealed HD DVD's fate was Warner Bros.' defection to the Blu-ray camp in January of 2008, which caused a domino effect throughout the industry. Toshiba waved the white flag just a month later, announcing that they would cease marketing and development of all HD DVD players.

9. Heniz EZ Squirt Purple Ketchup

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Source: Heinz

In October of 2000, Heinz unleashed "Funky Colored" ketchups on the unsuspecting world, offering food coloring-enhanced ketchups in purple, orange, pink, teal, and blue colors, perhaps as a subversive way of reminding all consumers just how synthetic the foods that we eat really are.

While this may have been all the rage with the kids, children don't buy ketchup - adults do. And who would've guessed that people wouldn't line up in droves to purchase ketchup that looks like clown snot?

8. Nintendo Virtual Boy

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Source: Nintendo

Nintendo touted the Virtual Boy as being the first "portable gaming console with true 3D graphics." While it was a truly heroic effort to bring 3D into the mainstream, it's kind of a stretch to call this ridiculous headgear/controller combo "portable."

Add to that the fact that the display - in 1995 - was monochrome and that you needed to mount the glasses on a steady surface to play it (while completely blocking out your peripheral vision), and it's really no shocker this thing was a dud.

7. DeLorean DMC-12

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Source: DeLorean Motor Company

As the only car ever made by the DeLorean Motor Company, what the DMC-12 lacked in engineering prowess it more than made up for with sheer style, from the stainless steel body panels and futuristic lines, to the swing-up gullwing doors.

Built in Northern Ireland by a largely inexperienced factory staff and saddled with an underpowered 130hp Volvo V6 (good luck with that 88mph in a parking lot, buddy), the real problems the DeLorean faced actually had nothing to with the car itself.

In 1982, after less than a year of production, the DeLorean Motor Company declared bankruptcy following the arrest of the company founder, John DeLorean, on drug trafficking charges.  Though he was later found not guilty, the damage had been done and hundreds of millions of dollars went down the drain, along with the iconic sports car itself. But shed not a tear for the DMC-12...it's back!

6. Betamax

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Source: Sony

The granddaddy of the format wars, the VHS vs. Betamax showdown was brutal. But clearly Betamax had some issues right off the bat. Initially, with a VHS tape, you had ability to record for up to 2 hours, which is enough for most feature-length movies. However, Beta tapes only allowed for 1 hour per tape, and that presented some serious issues for movie fans.

Once the rumor got around that VHS provided longer recording times, the market began to shift in their favor. With the market went the studios, and between 1975 and 1981, Betamax's home video market share went from 100% all the way down to 25%, and kept going in that direction until DVD stepped in and obliterated them both.

5. Gizmondo

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Source: Gizmondo

The Gizmondo hand held gaming device was really doomed from the start. While the tech specs were fairly solid, other major factors severely impacted the handheld's hopes for success. They offered two versions: A "Smart Adds" version, which was intended to download in-device advertising via GPS and displayed the ads at random intervals on the main screen, and an "ad-less" version for $400. That whole pricing scheme didn't sit well with a lot of people.

Compounding the Gizmondo's problems was the fact that they had some certified mafia types on their executive staff who had a habit of exploding high-buck stolen Ferraris across the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, bringing a large amount of unwanted attention toward the shady business practices of the Gizmondo brass. Add to that almost no marketing whatsoever, only a handful games available, and no retail stores in which to buy the handheld, and it quickly becomes clear that the Gizmondo never really had a chance to begin with.

4. Windows Vista

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Source: Microsoft

Though Windows Vista is not a terrible operating system by any standard, the initial harsh criticism it received upon its release in January of 2007 landed Vista with a really bad reputation that led to very slow adoption rates by consumers and businesses alike.

It didn't really help that Vista didn't seem to provide any clear benefits over Windows XP in terms of capabilities for most users, and instead demanded some fairly steep hardware requirements to get the full effect of the new OS. And the bottom line was that most people simply weren't willing to fork out more cash just for a shiny new interface whose "security features" largely consisted of the OS trying to stop the user from doing what they wanted to do.

Though most of the kinks in Vista have been ironed out in the years since its release, it seems pretty clear that Microsoft would like to get the whole Vistas debacle behind them, as their new-and-improved version of Vista, renamed Windows 7, hits store shelves today.

3. E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, The Video Game

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Source: Atari

In the summer of 1982, following the blockbuster success of the movie E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, Atari secured the rights to publish a game in its image for the Atari 2600 video game console, due to be released in time for the approaching holiday season, just five months away. As a result, the game was rushed out the door. But anticipation for the game was quite high, and Atari sold over 1.5 million copies of the game, which resulted in it becoming one of the highest selling games for the Atari 2600.

Problem was, they'd made about five million copies of the game - a game which people would soon realize was complete crap. Universally panned by critics and returned en masse by gamers, E.T. ended up being such an abysmal failure that Atari literally buried hundreds of thousands of copies of it in a New Mexico landfill. This bomb of a game would go on to be cited as a major component of Atari's subsequent downfall.

2. Ford Edsel

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Source: Ford Motor Company

By the time Ford finally took the Edsel out behind the barn and put the awkward-looking coupe out of its misery, it had become one of the largest commercial failures in American history, losing Ford more than 1.5 billion dollars by today's standards.

Lasting just three model years, the Edsel initially suffered from a false reputation as being unreliable, but the real culprit was more likely the less-than-awesome styling.  Looking back at an era where the Edsel's competition consisted of Bel Airs, Furys, and Coupe De Villes, which one would you have gone for?

1. New Coke

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Source: Coca-Cola Bottling Company

In 1985, the board of the Coca-Cola company apparently took part in a joint crack-smoking session and decided it was a good idea to drastically change the formula of the iconic fizzy beverage known around the world as "The Real Thing." The result was "New Coke," though just known as Coke at the time, because they'd completely ditched regular 'ol normal Coke when they dove headlong into this hornet's nest.

The company decided to ignore the outcries of Coca-Cola loyalists during focus group testing, saying that they tended to skew the results, which would later prove to be a very important decision when New Coke came to market that year.

While much of the soda-drinking public were fine with the change, a small, very vocal group of Coca-Cola psychos were not cool with the new formula, and made it known to anyone who would listen to them (which apparently included journalists). A psychiatrist Coca-Cola had hired to listen in on the company's customer service hotline described some callers as sounding like they were discussing the death of a family member.

Within three months, Coca-Cola announced they would be reintroducing the original formula, and that people could stop boycotting Coke and/or pouring out Coke bottles in the streets as a form of protest. Soda is serious business, people! 

However, instead of simply pretending it never happened, Coca-Cola released "Coke Classic" as an alternative option to New Coke.  But after its reintroduction, many believed that the reintroduced Coke wasn't the same as the original. And they were right: the company had changed the formula, now using high fructose corn syrup instead of cane sugar as a sweetener.

Despite this, Coca-Cola somehow managed to surpass the sales numbers they'd had before the whole New Coke debacle, taking over the number one spot from Pepsi, which they've retained ever since. People are weird.

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