15 Products That Totally Flopped From the New Museum of Failure
Not all business ideas end up being smash hits. Debuting new products always comes with a risk; companies and inventors sink years into designing something different, only to find out that the technology is flawed, consumers don't want it, or that the idea itself was a huge misstep. (Think: New Coke.) In Sweden, there will soon be an entire institution devoted to these abandoned, ridiculed ideas. The Museum of Failure, opening in Helsingborg, Sweden on June 7, showcases innovations that fell flat, from Bic for Her to Harley Davidson perfume, asking visitors to consider what we can learn from these failures. Here are 15 flops included in the collection.
Microsoft spent $1 billion and years of development on its Kin phone, which came out in 2010 and was designed for young people with a penchant for social networking. But it wasn't a smartphone—you couldn't download apps, watch YouTube, or play games. Even the social networking functions the phone was designed for were limited. You could upload photos to Myspace, but not to Twitter. After only two months on the market, it was pulled from production, and it was rumored that the company only sold 500 units.
Double the drumstick, double the fun? The GrooVe Stick is made to allow faster drumming, letting drummers catch up with the rapid-fire sounds of drum machines.
In the 1990s, the storied motorcycle company tried to appeal to its die-hard fans with, of all things, perfume. Alas, perfume doesn’t exactly jibe with the toughness fans associate with the Harley-Davidson brand. During the same time, it was also selling Harley-branded wine coolers, which went about as successfully as the perfume business.
In 1985, Coca-Cola released “New Coke,” a sweeter version of its cola formula, and discontinued its original product. The company received 400,000 outraged phone calls and letters about the move, and put “Coca-Cola Classic” back on the market after only a few months. In 1992, though, the company tried again, releasing New Coke under the name Coke II. (The formula may have been cheaper to produce, though the company has never publicly admitted that.) Coke II was finally pulled from shelves in 2002.
In 2011, Bic released a new line of pens marketed exclusively to women—“Bic for Her.” The ballpoint pens came in a variety of bejeweled colors (though the ink itself was blue or black) and were touted as being more comfortable for women’s hands. Though the product went largely unnoticed when it first appeared, it became international news once sites like Jezebel discovered that customers had been leaving creative, sarcastic reviews on the product’s Amazon listing. Unfortunately, the company didn’t learn its lesson about marketing to women. In 2015, it debuted an ad for South Africa’s National Women’s Day that instructed women to “Look like a girl” but “Think like a man,” drawing even more criticism.
Swedish weapons manufacturer Bofors—owned at one point by Alfred Nobel—added toothpaste to its list of products in the 1950s. In the 1970s, it was marketed as a safer alternative to toothpastes made with heavy-duty scouring agents, containing microscopic plastic balls instead. Other companies were not pleased with their toothpastes being touted as damaging to the teeth, and rumors started flying that Bofors toothpaste’s microscopic balls could remain in the body for months and that the toothpaste could even cause cancer. Not a hard rumor to sell when your company is most famous for its anti-aircraft cannons.
In 1975, Sony introduced Betamax, a revolutionary video recording format at the time. But JVC’s VHS format came directly on its heels, with more market-friendly recording capabilities—it was lighter, cheaper, and could hold three hours of video compared to Betamax’s one hour. Though Betamax produced higher-quality recordings, VHS became widely adopted. Though Betamax was irrelevant by the 1980s, Sony kept making the product until 2002, and continued to make tapes for it until 2016.
If you didn’t have a smartphone in 2009, there was another option for keeping up with social media: Twitter Peek, a Twitter-only mobile device. The $100 device, which cost $8 a month to hook up to the mobile network, allowed users to read tweets, see Twitpic photos, open links as plain-text webpages, and manage followers. But that was all it did, and it didn’t even do that well—you couldn’t read entire tweets on the homepage, only 20-character previews. Peek’s CEO argued that some people didn’t want to shell out the money for a smartphone, but still wanted to be able to tweet on the go. Tech reviewers almost uniformly asked: Who would actually want this? The answer was “virtually no one.” Peek, which later added more social media options to its devices, decommissioned all of its products in 2012.
Google Glass was supposed to be the must-have tech gadget of the future, equivalent to the iPhone. But while it was quickly snatched up by techies and journalists, the product never lived up to its promises. For one thing, it was released far too soon—it was released as a prototype in the hopes that beta testers would provide feedback that would help improve the product, but the massive fanfare that came with the 2012 release backfired on Google. Journalists fell over themselves to review it, then enumerated all its flaws. One reviewer called it “the worst product of all time.” Privacy advocates railed against the idea that users could record non-consenting subjects in public at all times. Google Glass never quite integrated into normal life—early adopters were labeled “glassholes.” —and the Glass project shut down in 2015.
Amazon’s attempt to break into the smartphone market in 2014 didn’t quite live up to the hype. Though the phone had 3D graphics and Firefly, an app that let you identify objects in real life via barcodes and photographs, this didn’t make up for the fact that the phone didn’t include access to the Google Play store, forcing users to download a smaller selection of apps from the dedicated Amazon Appstore—a selection that notably didn’t include Google Maps, Gmail, YouTube, or any other Google-owned product. Furthermore, it was only available on AT&T, meaning that some customers would have to switch phone carriers to buy it. Only two months after its release, the cost of an Amazon Fire Phone dropped from $200 to just 99 cents with a two-year contract; in 2015, the company discontinued the phone entirely.
The 1995 Kodak DC40 was only the second digital camera to hit the consumer market, and it should have been a slam dunk. The camera was technically impressive, and reviewers lauded its picture quality. It had a few flaws— there was no LCD screen, so you couldn’t see the photos until you downloaded them onto your computer with a cable, and the $1000 camera’s internal memory could only store 48 pictures—but so did other cameras at the time. But Kodak still managed to miss the boat on digital cameras. The company didn’t place much focus on its digital division for fear that it would cannibalize their main business: film. While other camera companies were coming out with new features like red-eye correction and flashy hardware, Kodak failed to come up with anything groundbreaking, missing several opportunities to get ahead in the digital market. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2012 and decided to focus on selling printers and ink rather than cameras.
The Newton MessagePad was the world’s first P.D.A., the Apple precursor to the PalmPilot. When the stylus-based device launched in 1993, Apple heralded its handwriting recognition feature as near flawless—which turned out to be totally overblown. The $700 MessagePad’s ineptitude when it came to turning handwriting into text was parodied in Doonesbury and The Simpsons, and the public never forgot. Instead of moving a million units the first year, the company only sold 50,000 in the first three months. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he killed the Newton project entirely. The pocket-sized computer was an idea far before its time, and it took more than a decade after Newton for Apple to get it right with the iPhone and Siri.
The Nokia N-Gage, released in 2003, was essentially a Game Boy smartphone. It came with a hefty price tag: $300 for the phone, plus the cost of a phone plan, plus a $10 a month charge to play online games. The phone, nicknamed “the taco,” had to be held perpendicular to your ear to hear calls. Game cartridges cost $30 to $50 each and you had to basically disassemble the phone each time you wanted to load one up. If you wanted to listen to MP3s, you had to buy a separate multimedia card, and you couldn’t listen to music and play games at the same time. As a reviewer for Fortune noted, “It has lots of features and doesn't excel at any of them.” The writing was already on the wall back in 2003, when PC Magazine predicted that “the N-Gage will go down in history as a poorly implemented great idea.”
The Rejuvenique facial mask was designed to use electrical stimulation to exercise facial muscles, allegedly reducing wrinkles. In a 1999 infomercial for the product, a spokesman called these “face-ups.” Run by a 9-volt battery, the mask looked like it belonged in a Friday the 13th movie, and the interior was filled with gold nodules that pressed against your face to deliver the stimulating pulses. Oh, and it was being sold in violation of U.S. law. The product was marketed as a beauty tool, but because it affected bodily function (forcing muscles to contract), it was technically a medical device—as the company (which was also responsible for George Foreman grills) was informed in a warning letter from the FDA in 2000. The company eventually did get FDA clearance, but that didn’t mean that anyone wanted to wear their horror mask.