We love our products. Like sports teams, we bond with them, form a compact with companies that we like where there’s trust and reciprocity. That’s why advertisers are so interested in the vaunted 18-34 (or 18-49) demographic. Not because the young are tastemakers, but because that bracket generally hasn’t locked into brand loyalty yet. An 18-year-old buys detergent. A harried housewife buys Tide. Big difference. Whether it’s a car brand or a certain food item, we pay attention to products. And that’s why it’s so interesting when they go so wrong. Here are ten of the most interesting product fails.
April 23, 1985 may be the second day to live in infamy, at least in marketing circles. New Coke replaced the old, and the public rejected it. Not with a whimper, either, but a roar. The company drastically underestimated the emotional bond consumers had with Coke. Some might argue its branding is American itself, like apple pie or baseball, as sacred as the flag. Said Sam Craig, professor of marketing, “They didn’t ask the critical question of Coke users: Do you want a new Coke?” Coke quickly backpedaled and reintroduced the original formula, this time rechristened Coke Classic.
Put this one in the category of “what could have been.” Ayds was an appetite-suppressant candy, available in chocolate, mint and other yummy flavors to help the masses lose a few pounds, and it was quite popular in the 70s and early 80s. What could ever go wrong? Through no fault of its own, Ayds succumbed to the reality of AIDS. Yeah, that AIDS. The product was eventually withdrawn from the market.
Check out a real Ayds commercial.
In August 2000, tire manufacturer Bridgestone recalled 6.5 million sport utility vehicle tires after reports that the tires were linked to as many as 46 deaths and hundreds of accidents. The reports alleged that treads peeled off their casings, sometimes while the vehicles were traveling at high speeds, leading to grisly and spectacular crashes. However, a year later, deaths linked to the tires exceeded 200 and it became a public relations nightmare. Sadly, Thomas Robertson warned about the inferior quality of the tires as long ago as…1972! The inaction of Firestone led to a Congressional hearing and several lawsuits were filed, and then settled, for millions of dollars. That’s Corporate America looking out for you!
Clairol’s Touch of Yogurt Shampoo
Innovation sometimes spawns brilliance. Other times, ridicule. Debuting in 1979, Clairol’s Touch of Yogurt Shampoo came and went. Maybe yogurt really is good for your hair, but people were too grossed out to try it. There were also reports of people confusing the product and eating it, seeing as how the word “Yogurt” is the largest thing on the package.
The Ford Pinto
This is the car that made Ralph Nader a household name. Especially after he claimed Ford cared more for profit than human life. The Ford Pinto was created in an effort to compete with smaller foreign cars and it was rushed to market in 1971. Like most things rushed, there was a problem. In rear-end collisions the Pinto’s gas tank tended to split open, leaking fuel. You can imagine the rest. A young man was severely burned in a fire. Worse, Ford knew in its pre-production tests that a cheap plastic baffle could protect the tank. But Ford did not install it. Turns out, Ralph Nader was right.
Gerber Singles for Adults
I’m trying to imagine a guy in a suit in 1974, maybe inspired after his two-martini lunch, hyping the idea of a crossover product for adults: “We’re a brand people trust! We feed their kids. Why not feed adults?” And so the Gerber Singles for Adults was born, marketed to college students and adults living on their own for the first time. It clearly didn’t take, as even coddled college students rejected it.
Toyota Prius Brakes
Turns out, the Japanese can screw things up just as much as us. Between 2009 and 2010, in a major hit against Toyota’s reputation for quality, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration logged at least 136 complaints about brakes on the Prius. Four cases involved a crash. By now, consumers know the trajectory of this story. Investigations. Congressional hearings. Lawsuits. Apologies from the heads of companies. Promises to do better. To quote Karl Marx, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.”
We can almost see why this worked. People love bacon. People love convenience. What people don’t like are grease fires. Yep, the bacon would leak fat. Fat near heating element = fail. Introduced in 1964 to test markets, it never made it to grocery stores across the nation. And that’s a good thing.
Frito Lay WOW! Chips
In yet another example of companies knowing what they’re putting out to market, but not really caring, Frito Lay came out with Wow! chips with Olestra, a non-caloric fat substitute. Hey, anything to make chips less fattening is a good thing, right? And yet, there was a small problem: olestra caused “anal oil leakage” in a study commissioned by the company. A memo to this effect was dated August 4, 1995, a year before the FDA approved olestra as a food additive. The product came to market in 1996, proving that Frito Lay does not care about consumers or our buttholes.
Next: 10 Jobs Soon to be Stolen by Robots
If there has been any sector of America that will say anything, lie, manipulate and deny, it’s the makers of cigarettes who claimed for decades that smoking was not a health risk despite scientific reports to the contrary. In 1989, RJ Reynolds marketed a brand of cigarettes to African-Americans. Some argued – what’s wrong with that? Others, like the American Cancer Society, saw the Uptown marketing campaign as exploitative. Said Mary Clarke, at the time, the president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C. branch of the NAACP, “With the poor health among black folks today, we do not need anything else to cause even more health problems. R.J. Reynold’s targeting of blacks is unethical” (nytimes.com). Uptown, thankfully, went up in smoke.