What can we learn from the most successful products ever made? And more importantly, how do we define success? Rather than simply list the biggest selling products of all time, here we provide a run-down of products that not only sold millions but did so in unorthodox ways and completely changed the landscape of popular culture and their respective industries.
In terms of units sold, the PS2 was the more successful of the PlayStation consoles, but its predecessor paved the way and remains the most exciting thing to happen to modern day videogaming.
Released in 1994, the console introduced 3D to gaming and took everyone by surprise. Sony at the time was not even considered major competitors in console production. It sold 102 million units over the course of a decade, showing longevity that we often don’t tend to see with consoles as the hype and industry moves on. Add to that the list of legendary game franchises it launched – Tomb Raider, Crash Bandicoot, Tekken, Silent Hill, Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid to name just a few – it’s easy to see why it will go down in history as a gaming great.
Staying with the gaming theme, one of the defining success stories of the smartphone age is an odd little game involving rotund birds and pigs which turned into a global phenomenon complete with merchandise, film and cartoon series due to its simple, addictive gameplay and storyline.
First released in 2009, it remains the number one app of all time and has been downloaded more than 200 million times. Angry Birds’ success is tied to the iPhone (which we’ll hear more about next). The game developer, Rovio, was on the brink, and was taking a make or break punt on developing an app for the new gadget du jour from Apple. The Apple App Store would change the industry completely for companies like Rovio, dramatically reducing costs of developing software, paving the way for more time-consuming mobile games such as Candy Crush and Pokemon Go.
More than 10 years have passed since Apple launched the first iPhone, and it’s easy to forget that initial reactions were somewhat muted. Competitors such as Nokia and Blackberry collectively shrugged and industry press was less than blown away, with one critic even suggesting that Apple should pull the plug on it altogether.
As we now know, it became not only a technological triumph but a pop culture phenomenon. Much has been written about the unique formula of design, innovation experience and marketing that made modern day Apple products so successful. The iPhone was disruptive in every way, from its exclusive propriety system, to the once instantly distinguishable white headphones; it created a cult of followers who remain evangelically devoted today.
The underwear brand is deserved of a place for becoming a billion-dollar business not just without any outside investment, but also without spending a single penny on traditional advertising.
How did founder Sara Blakely make Spanx the go-to control pants for millions of women all over the world? In short, they created a community through word of mouth. In an interview with Forbes, CEO Laurie Ann Goldman said “We had to spend money only on things that make money and advertising was esoteric. You couldn’t really measure the return you were going to get so we didn’t do it. The power of women discovering the brand from other women was actually a better strategy.”
Even though Spanx can very much afford to today, you still won’t see them advertising.