Sales & Marketing

5 businesses that made disastrous product launches

8 min read

14 November 2014

Former deputy editor

The following companies are all household names, but that doesn't mean they've always made the wisest decisions when it comes to getting a new item out on the market.

Some businesses leaders will say that the key to success is to think ahead, to innovate and never to stand still. 

Just the other day, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella offered three tips for any organisation to thrive, saying: “You have to have new concepts, and these have to be complemented by new capabilities, and you’ve got to have a culture that constantly evolves to support the first two.”

However, sometimes it’s probably best to pause for breath – at least when it comes to the shocking product launches of these five businesses.

McDonald’s Arch Deluxe

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The McDonald’s Arch Deluxe range was introduced in 1996 and pitched as a burger line targeting adults, which is ironic considering their clown mascot Ronald McDonald performed a dance routine – the Deluxe Line Dance – next to the online menu.

The advertising campaign promoting the burgers cost the company $100m (£64m) and it still wasn’t enough to convince customers to bite.

Perhaps it was due to the fact children were seen grimacing at the thought of eating a Deluxe in the adverts, or perhaps it’s because the burgers were larger but also more expensive than the original counterparts.

Swatch Paparazzi

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Smart watches aren’t quite mainstream just yet, but the sister devices of smartphones are certainly becoming more of a focus for technology manufacturers. Samsung has demonstrated that over the past couple of years with its Gear range – plugged by EE ambassador Kevin Bacon – while Apple recently announced its long-delayed Apple Watch to devout followers.

But while the tech isn’t mainstream, that doesn’t make it new. Swatch aligned with Microsoft’s MSN Direct in 2004 to develop the Paparazzi smartwatch, which offered users access to news, calendar appointment reminders, stock quotes and more.

However, the lack of interest from the business audience and consumers alike suggests it was way ahead of its time, and even the promotional support of Microsoft head Bill Gates and The OC star Mischa Barton couldn’t help the device succeed.

Little was heard or seen from the Paparazzi after the launch and in the end it was relegated to the scrap heap along with the MSN Direct service that powered the data.

Coca-Cola’s Dasani water

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The red and white packaging of Coca-Cola, and the dark fizzy liquid within, is instantly recognisable globally – regardless of which language the label is in. And now at this time of the year, its classic “Holidays Are Coming” advertisement still signals the arrival of the festive season.

So what was the company thinking when it moved into ‘pure’ beverages with the Dasani water brand?

The bottled water line was a success in the US, but after launching in the UK, it was unceremoniously dumped in March 2004 after just five weeks on shelves as it came to light the contents contained tap water, which went through a purification process, and potentially threatening chemicals.

The company immediately recalled the remaining 500,000 bottles that were retailing in stores for 95p each.

However, ever the fighter, Coke reentered the country this year with a new bottled water range called Glaceau Smartwater.

Apple Maps

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If people need information online, the default approach is to use Google. The technology company is all about search, and that’s why its maps app was so popular – it got the job done well.

Apple used to recognise that and its customers benefitted from the Google Maps app preinstalled on iPhones and iPads, but the company soon decided it was time for a change when it launched iOS 6 complete with Apple Maps in the place of Google’s offering back in September 2012. 

It didn’t take long before users began declaring their outrage as cities had been moved to completely inaccurate locations, dumping towns into the middle of the sea and homes onto airport runways, while the graphics were often like something from an 80s console game.

The unpopularity and backlash was so severe that Apple CEO Tim Cook was forced to write a statement saying: “At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers. With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment. We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.”

Tail between legs, he added: “While we’re improving Maps, you can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps.”

It should be noted the aforementioned Waze was acquired by Apple’s rival Google for approximately $1.3bn (£830m) in June last year.

Netflix and Qwikster

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Like the above, with Google the go-to for search, Netflix has fast become the instant thought for digital home entertainment.

The streaming service, which runs across TVs, smartphones, tablets, consoles and PCs, provides users the means to binge-watch films and TV shows one after another without hesitation.

It also has a US-only DVD rental service, and back in September 2011, CEO Reed Hastings had planned to introduce sister company Qwikster to look after the tangible products, with Netflix managing the web material – though it would require users to have two separate accounts, monthly payments and so on.

Users were confused with the poor communication and fees, prompting Hastings to post a blog, explaining frankly: “I messed up. I owe everyone an explanation.

“It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming, and the price changes.”

He went on to allay fears consumers and promised that: “Qwikster will continue to run the best DVD by mail service ever, throughout the United States.”

Three weeks passed by and Hastings posted another – much briefer – blog. “It is clear that for many of our members two websites would make things more difficult, so we are going to keep Netflix as one place to go for streaming and DVDs.

“This means no change: one website, one account, one password… in other words, no Qwikster.”