I think we can agree that Reddit can be a cesspool at the best of times. But every now and then, there's a gem tucked away in comments arguing over politics, religion, and if someone's a massive asshole or not.
On a post about the Museum of Failure (less a museum and more a traveling exhibit of failed innovations), a commenter mentioned a little-known warehouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I instantly became curious, and dared to click on the commenter's link. That took me to an article in the Ann Arbor News from 2010 about NewProductWorks. It's a real thing! I didn't get tricked or Rick Rolled by a Reddit rando!
Episode: File 0097: Bette-Jean's Crystal Cattle pt.3
Release Date: Apr 28 2023
Researched and presented by Halli
So I figured for a bit of fun, after so many topics of mine being terribly depressing, to look at some spectacular failures in consumer products.
NewProductWorks is a collection of thousands of consumer products from around the world (over 140,000 by an account from 2017). It unfortunately is not open to the public, as the warehouse is part of GfK (Growth from Knowledge) North America, which, according to their website, supports clients in "business-critical decision-making processes around consumers, markets, brands, and media". They're consultants for brands, basically. And the NewProductWorks warehouse is open to their clients, so they can explore the shelves of nonperishable food and beverages, health and beauty products, house care, pet items, and more. The clients get to learn from what's been done in the past, and maybe take away some inspiration for their own products.
When Citrus Hill orange juice company visited years ago, they were looking for inspiration. "At the time, most orange juice was frozen concentrate but Citrus Hill was looking to introduce ready-to-serve juice in a cartoon. A package of Japanese laundry soap - with a twist off lid on top - inspired Citrus Hill to put it on juice carton and others, including the dairy industry, followed."
But it's not all brand empowerment and new design ideas. The warehouse also serves as a cautionary tale, that even brands can fail, and fail big time. Anyone remember clear Pepsi? How about toaster eggs?
So this article got me curious about more failures in consumer products. I mean, Google Glass is a really good modern example. As is Tesla's auto-pilot (yikes). The Dollop podcast has a brilliant episode on Segway and that WTF story. So let's look at some wild inventions and try to figure out what the hell they were thinking.
Lululemon/Athletica Astro Pants
Y'all, yoga pants should never be sheer. My god. Back in 2013, these damn Lululemon yoga pants were so popular, they were sold out everywhere. Demand was wild. They sold for $98 online and no one could get them.
And then people started reporting that the material in their beloved yoga pants was a little too sheer. Quickly, the company started offering refunds but that didn't stop the customer complaints all over social media, including the company's Facebook page. There were other complaints, too, mostly about dyes bleeding onto other garments. And all in all, it sounds like Lululemon did right by customers, giving them their money back and immediately pulling the items from store shelves.
Except…a man started talking about women's bodies. Oh my guy. Maybe don't.
Chip Wilson, the company's founder, was quoted as saying:
"Frankly, some women's bodies just don't actually work [for the yoga pants]," Chip Wilson said Tuesday in an interview on Bloomberg TV's "Street Smart" program. "It's more really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time, how much they use it."
Wilson had also previously said
"that the brand's yoga pants, which cost around $100 per pair, become see-through when women buy sizes that are too small for them."
On top of that, the reconfigured yoga pants hit store shelves in late 2013, only to be instantly hit by consumer complaints of lesser quality, including fabric pilling. And Lululemon tried real hard to uh…make lemonade out of lemon pants. Calling them "second chance pants", the company sewed in an extra layer of fabric onto the back and strips of see-through mesh on the legs.
The tag on the bottoms reads: "These pants were inspired by a need to find functional and beautiful design solutions for our sheer pants. This is what celebrating failure looks like!"
The company explains further, "We added mesh panels on the side and a luon fabric panel across the back to give you the coverage you need in Down Dog."
And they were still charging $92 for them.
Episode 418 of The Dollop podcast had me rolling with laughter. Who the hell thought a $700 juicer was a good idea?
A guy named Doug Evans.
Evans had long been a health food proselytizer. He'd gone vegan after meeting a woman at a nightclub who convinced him of the lifestyle's benefits. Together they founded Organic Avenue in 2006, which sold $10 bottles of cold-pressed, unpasteurized juice and other vegan snacks.
"It was a vision of a restaurant someone could go to where no animals were harmed, and no humans were harmed," he said. "It was so magical to be able to have that. I was drinking several glasses of juice a day as my primary form of hydration," Evans said.
Organic Avenue was sold in 2012, but Evans was still obsessed with juice. All juice, all the time, he needed it. Evans started working with freelance welders and machinists and spent a ton of time building juice machine prototypes in his apartment in Brooklyn. A year or so later, he had a working model, but the machine had some problems - mainly, that it would blow apart and send metal and food flying across the room. Not exactly the kind of product that would build consumer trust.
After going back to his old partner and finding some investors, Evans buckled down. He must have been quite the talker, or just believed really hard in his juice machine, because eventually he got a half-million dollars in funding. And then more. And more. He moved the operation to a shopping center in Silicon Valley and raised 16.5 million in Series A funding. Series B funding got him another $70 million. Evans started building the machines.
Juicero Press wound up as a Wi-Fi connected juicer that used "proprietary, single-serving packets of pre-chopped fruits and vegetables that were sold exclusively by the company by subscription." It originally launched in March 2016 at an eye-watering price of $699. But when sales weren't meeting expectations, Evans stepped down as CEO and was replaced by Jeff Dunn, the former president of Coca-Cola North America. The price tag was dropped to $399 only 10 months later, in January 2017.
And then the big controversy hit the news - consumers and journalists "discovered that its juice packets could be squeezed just as easily by hand as by the company's expensive machine. On September 1, 2017, the company announced that it was suspending sales of the juicer and the packets, repurchasing the juicer from its customers and searching for a buyer for the company and its intellectual property."
Most notably, Bloomberg News published a story showing the packets could be squeezed by hand, and that "hand-squeezing produced juice that was nearly indistinguishable in quantity and quality from the output of the company's expensive Press device."
And venture capitalist Ben Einstein took the machine apart and found that it was too complex, and that a machine far less complicated and expensive could have done the exact same thing.
I truly didn't understand this thing at the outset. Keurig was massively popular for a long time (I hate those things, they're wasteful and you can't control anything other than the amount of water used), so in 2016, the company naturally thought consumers would want the same machine, but for soda.
I'm afraid to tell you they were very, very wrong. First up, the machine was $370. Compared to the most basic Soda Stream at a more reasonable $79, this is already wild. The cost per drink with Kold was anywhere between $0.99 and $1.29; SodaStream was $0.08 to $0.20 per serving. I can still get $0.99 12oz bottles of soda at gas stations and pharmacies, if they're on sale. And I don't have to buy an expensive machine to get that.
Also, soda's not nearly as popular as it once was. According to an article of Business Insider from 2016,
"Keurig rolled out Kold at a time when Americans are cutting back on soda consumption for health reasons. Per capita soda consumption last year was 41.4 gallons, down from 52.4 gallons in 2004…"
So their timing wasn't super great on this one.
Then there's the thing's size and noise. It buzzed constantly when plugged in, and you had to keep it plugged in at all times if you wanted to use it regularly. Kold took forever to cool down after a single serving pour - up to FIVE HOURS.
Customers noted it was as loud as a "freight train" and they could hear it in other rooms. There were complaints about overheating if you didn't keep it a certain distance from the wall or other appliances.
And then there's the output - a single 8 oz. glass of soda from disposable pods of syrup (so not earth friendly at all). A standard serving of soda is 12 oz. Sometimes the pods didn't work, leading to more waste and cost. The pods were EXPENSIVE AF - Coca-Cola pods were sold in packs of four for $4.99. A two-liter bottle of soda is usually around $2.
Another customer said that he received the machine for free in exchange for an unbiased review, and he disliked the machine so much that he won't be keeping it.
I would not buy this product. It is far from economical and there is no convenience benefit. The pods are almost as large as buying a can of soda. The machine is also too large to keep on the countertop, taking up almost as much room as my microwave. It is also loud — hums louder than the refrigerator on standby."
And finally, how about some just…weird products.
NASCAR romance novels
This one got me.
"Harlequin and NASCAR each wanted to make the romance novels work and sell to audiences who otherwise may not have cared about the Daytona 500."
Now, the romance genre has gone through a ton of changes in the last two decades. Romances are more diverse, more interesting, more focused on emotional connection. You can still find breezy or smutty romances for sure, but the genre as a whole has moved past the Fifty Shades of Grey days.
So, naturally, back in the early aughts, NASCAR wanted in on all that Fifty Shades/romance money by partnering with arguably the biggest name in romance publishing, Harlequin. But they made a strange move by omitting "sexual intercourse, drugs and alcohol, and NASCAR crashes" from the books and focused on "emotional kissing".
So they took out all the stuff that made romances popular at the time.
NASCAR's defense of their publishing partnership?
"Mark Dyer, the vice president of licensing for NASCAR, said that surveys found that 72% of female fans enjoyed reading and were more likely to purchase the books than non-fans."
Yes because I want to read Speed Dating:
Mark Dyer, the vice president of licensing for NASCAR, said that surveys found that 72% of female fans enjoyed reading and were more likely to purchase the books than non-fans."
Yes because I want to read Speed Dating: "Dylan Hargreave thinks I'm an actress paid to pose as his girlfriend at a North Carolina society wedding. How did this happen to me, of all people? Kendall Clarke, award-winning actuary, the veritable shining star of number crunchers who, just hours ago, learned her irresponsible fiancé (sorry, ex-fiancé) called off our wedding because he'd gotten one of my colleagues pregnant. What are the odds?
Don't tell me you've never heard of Dylan Hargreave. Celebrity NASCAR driver? People magazine's Sexiest Man of the Year? Those eyes. That smile…
Forget sensible! I've assessed the risk…and I'm taking it! I usually keep the brakes on, but as of now I'm taking a vacation. From me
Or how about Running Wide Open:
"When an accident lands Trey Sanford in the care of Dr. Nicole Foster, everything he's worked for is suddenly at risk. The injured racing star will do whatever it takes to protect his family legacy—and his own carefully guarded secret—even if it threatens his budding relationship with the vivacious doctor.
Looking out for her kid brother is Nicole's number one priority. Trey could help him by going public with his medical condition. She knows it's a tough choice, especially with the NASCAR competition heating up…and things heating up between them. Unless she can convince this man who's already a hero to her brother that he's also a champion in her eyes…"
As a marijuana user and a cat owner, these just made me laugh. Meowijuana King Size Catnip Joints are "non-addictive", so whew, that's good.
But the customer questions were too funny:
Why is it a joint?
Do the joints come unwrapped? Is it real paper that tears easily?
My cat ate the thing whole. Should I be concerned?
Customer reviews include these tidbits:
"My cat chewed into the Amazon box to get at this"
"I only had to take it out the packet and Sparky got a whiff of the good stuff and went meerkat on me to get a hold of it. Much better than off the shelf stuff. She ate the end off and went rolly polly on the floor, turned into liquid and snatched it out my hand when I tried to assist her in picking it up (how very dare I). I did try to go "two'sies" but she wasn't for sharing and would probably have clawed my face off if I tried to get it off her. I think I'll have to ration them to 1 a week. I did wonder if she would get the munchies or sleep afterwards... she slept. Till 3am which is about normal- as all you cat parents know - thats time for first breakfast!"
"Would love to figure out some kind of adhesive or something I can put around the joints to make them hard to puncture and break"
Fly killing salt gun
And finally, something that I can't tell if it's serious or hilarious or both.
The Bug-A-Salt: Fire Your Flyswatter
"Patented salt guns for insect eradication"
So I clicked through to really take a look at these NERF-like guns for…shooting at bugs. Yes, you heard that right.
The description of the Bug-A-Salt 3.0 reads
Updated with a new, rapid fire Cross Bolt Safety.
Improved engineering on trigger mechanism. It's now VERY light – so be careful! Keep away from children and pets.
Barrel has been lifted & patridge sight added for extremely accurate shooting.
Improved, more durable salt hopper makes tactical reloads easy during the heat of battle.
Includes 90-Day Warranty, Limited 1-Year Warranty with Proof of Purchase from Skell. Non-toxic, accurate within 3 feet & no batteries needed.
It has over 28k reviews.
Customer questions include:
Can I kill mice with it? Thank you in advance
What is the effective range for a fly?
I live in Florida we have these tree frogs that live behind your shutters on your home…Will this taht care of them? thanks Mike w
(Someone answered: "No way. Not strong enough. Besides, why kill frogs when you can just move them away ?")
Can a hibachi chef use this to salt rice? asking for a friend. yes, of course all safety precautions will be taken. no pointing at people, pets etc.
I'll end with my favorite review of this very strange item:
"The bug a-salt rifle to some is just a fun gimmick. To me, it was all I had to fend off my family in a war.
These flies, they aren't like us. They've evolved to the point where their population can increase tenfold in the span of a couple days.
I still remember the Before time, my family was so happy. Then one day out of no where I heard a buzzing near my ear. Turned around and didn't see anything. Forgot about it, and didn't think anything of it until one of my boys asked for me to round up some of the crops for him. I walked out to the kitchen to grab a banana from the fruit bowl to see what had to be 15-20 of the enemy suckling on the fruit.
I grabbed ol' faithful, my tried and true swatter and went to town on the hellish fiends. They had no idea what hit them. Unfortunately with only a couple of the little devils left, my swatter snapped at the center of its handle.
Knowing I now had no offensive advantage on the flies I had to retreat. I immediately came back here to Amazon looking for swatters. I found a nice looking American made swatter. Placed the order and waited.
Unfortunately for my family in the time between the swatter getting here, the fly population had exploded to hundreds if not thousands of the grape bunch eye looking monsters. I knew a regular swatter wasn't going to do it anymore. I placed an order for this.
When the package came I immediately ripped the rifle from its container, cleaned the barrel and gently worked the pump. After several minutes getting familiar with every inch of the product I filled the chamber with S grade table salt.
I looked around at the flies now outnumbering my family 3k/1. Found a group of about 4 of them and pulled back the skin of my bug a-salt rifle, refilling the red tip to the bugs. I took a breath, said a prayer to the one and only God our lord and pressed the trigger. 3 of the bugs flew away unscathed but all that was left of the fourth was a couple legs.
After seeing the damage this baby could do I ran around my home, quickly pumping the rifle, pumping up and down up and down, watching as the white salt exploded from the tip and sometimes ripped apart the flies.
I was in control, I was God against these wretched hell demons.
In the end with this product I was able to hold my own until I called in my father for a chemical strike against the flies which ended the war for good.
Product is sturdy but if you need to fire it continually it can really make your arm sore as it takes a good amount of force to actually use the pump so you can fire again. My family told me it looked like I was walking around jacking off the gun as I had to reload it over and over.
Gets the job done if you only have a few pests around but if you are dealing with an infestation you would be better off just bug bombin'"
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