Out of the box thinking has led to some of our most beloved, essential and iconic products. It has also been responsible for some eyebrow-raising failures. Even the largest, most enduring brands in the world have missteps when it comes to product launches: it’s all part and parcel of being a risk-taker in business. We take a look at some of the weirdest products launched by major brands, and why some succeeded where others failed…
Product: Women’s perfume
It would have been difficult to disconnect the rather unattractive smell of lighter fluid from the Zippo branded perfume no matter how nice it really smelled, so suffice to say this did not do well – although they appear to have created something of a cult following judging by the amount of bottles still available to buy online today!
The lesson here is to remember that when you’ve built a really strong brand, people will almost instinctively associate all the characteristics of the brand with any new product launched. If you suspect your brand identity will contradict, distract or clash with the idea, it might be best to create a completely different brand identity for it.
Product: Disposable underwear
Not a bad product idea per se – disposable underwear has a presence particularly in the women’s market for uses such as sensitive bladder conditions, maternity or travel, but usually these come from brands with specific history and expertise in providing hygiene and sanitary products. The sheer lack of expertise or association with stationery just made this too difficult for the public to get their heads around.
It’s best not to overreach with a concept – just because Bic does disposable pens did not give it an automatic understanding of other disposable items, and it was clearly a mistake to think that the ‘disposable’ aspect of their brand is easily applicable elsewhere. Incidentally, Bic are also guilty of trying to branch into the perfume market… we probably don’t need to tell you how that turned out.
Product: Digital toilet seat
A slightly weird one to our western eyes, but not so strange in Korea and other Asian nations where smart home technology has been making in-roads long before the buzz reached our shores.
Samsung’s line of digital toilet seats is just another innovation in a region where smart home devices are incredibly popular. The reason it works is that Samsung have long been a presence in the home, so it’s not overly jarring to see them bringing innovation to the bathroom. The lesson here is to know your market and stick with it -and remember that launching somewhere where there is little demand or different attitudes to a product can risk your reputation.
Product: Barbecue sauce
Oh, Dr Pepper, this really should have worked as a concept – it wasn’t a step too far from their area of expertise, and we have seen other similar food/drink brand crossovers work (think Guinness Marmite for one). However, this failure went way beyond a misunderstanding – the sauce simply did not impress consumers on the taste front.
In short, don’t hope that surviving on your existing brand reputation will save you from an inferior quality product – ensure you pay as much attention to the quality and taste as with the original product that made your name, otherwise you risk tainting your brand.
Product: Various chicken-related merchandise
By contrast, KFC have managed to pull off the gimmick/novelty crossover. The (admittedly limited) launches of items as diverse as edible nail polish and chicken scented sun cream appear to work because the company a.) is keeping a logical, if bizarre connection with chicken, and b.) obviously isn’t taking itself too seriously. They are tapping into online viral culture and having fun with the guilty pleasure aspect of their food.
KFC’s approach demonstrates you can have a sense of fun and self-awareness about your brand to keep people’s interest in the core offering.
Product: Cosmetics and homeware
We couldn’t have a weird product launch list without mentioning Virgin.
Richard Branson is no stranger to branching into unexpected markets. Virgin Cola is often held up as one example of their unsuccessful attempts to try something new, but another interesting failure is the Virgin Vie cosmetics and home range. The failure here may have been the choice to sell the range by operating as a multi-leveling-marketing (MLM) company. Similar to Avon, the make-up, jewellery and home goods were available via retail outlets and in-home parties hosted by self-employed sales reps, who would be recruited by existing reps encouraged by incentives.
Companies using this approach to selling have come under scrutiny in recent years as being very close to pyramid schemes, but Vie sank long before this. The failure was compounded by a lack of brand direction (Vie re-branded quite a few times), as well as sheer market saturation and the lack of offering anything new or exciting to turn people’s heads. If you are going to go for something different to your core offering, make sure it does actually offer audiences something different and/or better than what is already on the market!