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The Most Stupendously Successful Products of All Time

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.


Released in 1994, the Sony Playstation introduced 3D to gaming.

Sony PlayStation 

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.


First released in 2009, Angry Birds remains the number one app of all time.

Angry Birds

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. 

The Apple iPhone revolutionised more than just the phone industry.


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. 


Spanx became a billion-dollar business without any outside investment.


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.

What we want to do is make a leapfrog product that is way smarter than any mobile device has ever been, and super-easy to use. This is what iPhone is. OK? So, we’re going to reinvent the phone.

Steve Jobs Launching the iPhone in 2007

Harry Potter is the best selling book series of all time.

Harry Potter

This runaway success is all about storytelling, naturally.

Cast your minds back once again to the late 1990s, when a story about a young boy who discovers he is a wizard first took young adult fiction by storm. Add to that the real-life story of the meteoric rise of its author, JK Rowling, who previously had been struggling to make ends meet as a single mother living on welfare and became the world’s first billionaire author.

The world of Harry Potter and the rags to riches tale of Rowling captured the world’s imagination, but don’t overlook the shrewd business smarts of Rowling and her book editor Arthur Levine who sought ways to capture larger audiences and create a real-world community around the fictional magical realm with a major Warner Bros film franchise, online fan communities and much more.


Coca-Cola can justifiably lay claim to being the world's best known brand.


No stupendously successful product list could avoid including the soft drink giant – in fact, no one seems to be able to avoid the brand’s ubiquitous presence, with a staggering 94% of the world’s population said to be able to recognise the Coca-Cola brand.

Over the course of 131 years, Coca-Cola created not just a product but an emotional experience, focusing on branding and the way the product makes people feel. And it has never strayed from this core aspect of its identity, with simple, timeless advertising creating an instant sense of familiarity and trust.


In the VW Beetle, Volkswagen created a widely accessible and iconic car model.

VW Beetle

The classic Beetle claims the title of the longest production run of any single car design ever. When it first rolled off the production line in the 1940s, the idea of owning a car was a distant dream for most people. Volkswagen had created a more affordable, smaller car model that would be more accessible to a greater portion of the population.

But that isn’t the whole story – the model’s longevity can be put down to a certain amount of honesty, humour and an ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ approach to design. The Beetle is instantly recognisable, having changed little on the outside over the decades, and its steadfast devotion to simplicity is part of the appeal for buyers.


It's easy to forget that Microsoft Windows is a product.

Microsoft Windows

Something so ubiquitous we might forget that it is a product; Windows is Microsoft’s most successful software ever. Introduced in 1985, it has made the company over $306bn to date. Bill Gates and Microsoft invested greatly in Windows, believing that it would make those adopting it more competitive in the long run.

Microsoft’s ability to adapt and respond to user feedback kept it as the dominant force in operating systems. Though in more recent times public support has waned, Microsoft appears to have turned things around once more with Windows 10, and it looks like it will be ending on a high, with Microsoft calling it the ‘last ever’ version. What could possibly replace it? We’ll have to wait and see.

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Kayleigh Ziolo is a freelance journalist and writer based in Ireland. Follow her on Twitter @Kayleigh_Ziolo

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