Innovation is not, as many might believe it to be, lightning in a bottle. It’s a repeatable and scalable skill that people and organizations can learn and master. Yet time and again, we witness organizations — even those we perceive as the biggest and brightest — stumble on their way to successful innovation by neglecting the true needs of their customers.
Whether due to profit-driven strategies, rushes to market, stubbornness or assumption, these five well-known examples of unsuccessful innovation demonstrate a disconnect between the companies and their customer base that may well have been circumvented by the human-centered design method.
Bic for Her
When Bic launched its new line of pens designed for women in 2012 (sold in delicate hues of pink and purple) it was not the best look for the brand. In fact, this seemingly sexist foray into gender-specific stationery was met with a tidal wave of criticism and mockery, even ending up on the Ellen DeGeneres show where the comedian joked that the pen could be used when women took dictation from their male bosses. It would seem that the company’s attempt to target this specific market had been fueled by bias, rather than guided by the sincere needs of customers, causing the item to crash and burn into a pile of pink dust.
Maxwell House’s Brewed Coffee in a Box
In 1990 Maxwell House had an idea— and they were committed to seeing it through. They endeavored to launch cartons of pre-brewed coffee to the market. An easy sell right —especially considering the cartons of iced brewed coffee that are flying off the shelves today? Wrong. The issue was that Maxwell House saw the product from the beginning as a hot-ticket item — that is, they expected their customers would heat the coffee up in a cup before consumption and relentlessly advertised the product as such. Not only were their customers not on board with taking that extra step, but they found that microwaving the container as whole brought its own slew of problems as it was ill-fatedly foil-lined. Complaints came to a boiling point and the product went down the drain.
The Evian Water Bra
Yes, this product existed. While the world has long been familiar with Evian as a leader in the bottled water business, the company decided to branch out to the brassiere industry in 2005 with a garment that could be filled with water. While water-filled bra’s purpose was to offer a cooler alternative to traditional bras in hotter weather (as well as a pouch that could hold a bottle of Evian water, ha), it was perceived as a random, confusing and clunky attempt at industry diversification that didn’t take Evian’s existing customers into consideration. Unsurprisingly, the bra was pulled from shelves soon after its release.
Wendy’s Frescata Sandwiches
Taking a page from their Subway-sandwich-style competitors, fast-food favorite Wendy’s decided to launch a line of cold-cut, deli-style sandwiches in 2006. What the company hadn’t considered is that customers who favored this style of restaurant also preferred a made-before-your-eyes style of sandwich delivery: a format not followed by Wendy’s as they continued to prepare all their food in their back-of-house. The disconnect between the two styles, and the company’s inability to find ways to bring the two together seamlessly (the sandwiches took famously long to prepare) caused the idea to be shelved the following year.
Atari’s E.T. Video Game
In 1982, E.T. was America’s most beloved alien, and businesses around the world were looking to get a piece of the celestial pie. Video game leader Atari was eager to partner up with the E.T. franchise, offering up $20M for the rights and proceeding to piece together an E.T. game in a rushed five and a half weeks to meet a sales target. Perhaps assuming the game would be a hit regardless, Atari was proven wrong when the product was critically panned for its poor graphics and widely reviewed as impossible to play. With 3.5 million units having been returned by customers to Atari, the reception of this particular game has even been blamed for triggering the Video Game Crash of 1983. Now that’s innovation gone awry.