Sometimes it just takes one bizarre idea to invent a product that changes the world. Certain inventions were expected to be dead on arrival before technology made them contenders (see: online shopping, cell phones, television), but even electric lightbulbs
were expected to be a flop. These wildly successful products, and the less successful ones below, are a reminder of how dependent inventions are on the timing of their releases and the cultural attitudes surrounding their adoptions. (Shaving body hair only became popular
following the invention of safety razor blades and the cultural shift to more revealing clothing.)
There is no more notorious failure than that of Google Glass. It was a "hands-free smartphone
" mounted over the eyes like glasses. It could pull up a browser, calendar, camera, map, and more with just a voice command. Available from 2013 to 2014, its whopping price of $1,500 did not match up to its inadequate tech features. Before long, many places even started to ban the device
Barnes and Noble released the Nook in 2009
to combat their dwindling number of physical book sales. The Nook was an e-reader that promised to replace the space taken up by all of the books on your shelf. I grew up with nonstop commercials for this product, and despite not knowing anyone who owned one, I was surprised to learn this product wasn't popular. Factor in the adoption of the Amazon Kindle, iPads, and Android tablets, and its obscurity becomes less of a mystery.
Released from a major company that cannibalized Instagram itself, as well as many features from Snapchat and Paypal, the Portal seemed destined to succeed. The idea seemed practical enough: a set of screens designed to make it easier to video chat with family. Unfortunately, this microphone and camera duo that would, theoretically, be inside everyone's house, was released in 2018... months after the Cambridge Analytica scandal
. Most people passed on this one.
Segways came out in 2001, but their high price made them somewhat of a status symbol. In 2015, the more affordable Hoverboard hit the market. It was a product I (and many celebrities) truly thought would be a decent alternative to Segways. These boards were essentially a two-wheeled platform for someone to stand on (shoulder-width instead of in a warrior pose). They were successful - until they started exploding
and several institutions began banning them.
Disposable Underwear and Pantyhose
It sounds like a joke, but it's true. In 1998, Bic attempted to sell single-use underwear and pantyhose. The main issue with this product came down to marketing
. Bic had always been associated with plastic pens, lighters, and razors, all of which could be manufactured using the same tools. How did that translate to underwear? Another red flag was the implication of disposable underwear
. Undergarments are a long-term investment. What in all of creation would someone have to do to their undergarments in order to warrant throwing them out?
Remember a little over a year ago when you used to play volleyball or hang out with a bunch of friends on the beach? In those long gone days the Coolest Cooler
was supposed to have your back. It boasted a spacious cooler, built-in blender, cutting board, Bluetooth speaker, and a USB charger all in one. Soon after its Kickstarter campaign in 2014, though, stores began to sell similar products. Many of the supporters never received the Coolest Cooler they had paid for.
Based on these products, it's apparent that their success is just as dependent on their functionality as it is on how the world reacts to them. When designing a product, it's important to keep in mind your audience, potential regulations, and if there is an alternative to your product already on the market. For a list of more consumer fails, visit cbinsights.com
Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.
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