A flop or product failure is a product that doesn't reach expectations of success, failing to come even close. A major flop goes one step further and is recognized for its almost complete lack of success.
However, most of the items listed below are ones that had high expectations, large amounts of money or widespread publicity, but fell far short of success. Obviously, due to the subjective nature of "success" and "meeting expectations", there can be disagreement about what constitutes a "major flop".
Two examples: David McReynolds ran for President of the United States in 1980 and 2000 on the socialist ticket, but came nowhere near winning. However, he would never characterize his campaign as a flop because he ran for president in order to get his causes recognized, without any hope of being elected. But the creation of New Coke is generally regarded indisputably a "major flop".
|Table of contents|
Musical comebacks gone awry
- MC Hammer's failed restyling as a gangsta rapper.
- New Kids on the Block didn't make the comeback cut as "NKOTB".
- Diana Ross had to cancel her "Diana Ross and the Supremes" tour for lack of interest, mainly because she had refused to include other original members of the Supremes in the tour, cutting off 23 scheduled appearances.
- Vanilla Ice
Flops in sports
- The European Hockey League
- The United States Football League
- The XFL
Flops in television
- The disastrous 1980 season of Saturday Night Live
- The BBC soap operas Triangles and Eldorado
- The relaunched ITV1 soap Crossroads
- Pink Lady & Jeff
- The Chevy Chase Show
- The Pat Sajak Show
- Thicke of the Night - Talk show with Alan Thicke
- The third season of Big Brother
- The U.S. version of Coupling
- The Mike Bullard Show
Turkeys (Flops in theatre)
- 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (1976) Lyrics by Alan J. Lerner, of "My Fair Lady" and "Brigadoon" fame; music by Leonard Bernstein, with important Broadway successes such as "On the Town," "Candide," and, most notably "West Side Story" to his credit. Closed after only seven performances. There was no cast recording made. An attempt was made to revive it in London in 1997. A reviewer commented "As exhumations go, this one had its bright moments."
- Carrie a 1988 Broadway musical adaptation of Stephen King's novel of the same title, starring Betty Buckley, closed after only five performances and 16 previews. One of the many problems plaguing the show was a bucket of pig blood which was replaced by people dabbing red paint on the actress' face, as actually pouring stage blood on the actress would have interfered with her body microphone. The show was such a notorious turkey it provided the title to Ken Mandelbaum's survey of theatrical disasters, Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops.
Flops in film
A movie is most likely a flop if it doesn't perform as expected. A major movie flop might barely (or not even) make back the money it took to finance it. In extreme cases it might put the studio out of business.
A separate discussion of movie flops and box office bombs provides examples and rationales.
Commercial failures in aviation
These are aircraft which were technically sound, but failed in the marketplace. For aircraft which failed to work at all see '#Flops in science and engineering'.
- The Bristol Brabazon - this giant airliner was simply too expensive, too large for the time, and carried too few passengers in great luxury rather than many passengers in less space.
- The Convair CV-880 and CV-990 - these aircraft were commercial disasters as they only offered five-abreast seating, and were easily outcompeted on price by the Boeing 720 which was based on an existing aircraft type.
- Supersonic transports: Boeing 2707, Tupolev Tu-144, arguably Concorde
- The Dassault Aviation Mercure - this aircraft had extremely limited range and as a result only ten were built for the French domestic airline Air Inter
- The Northrop F-20 Tigershark - this fighter aircraft was designed as a private venture for export, but failed utterly as foreign air forces wanted the more prestigious F-16 Fighting Falcon used by the USAF, despite the F-20 having superior performance and lower cost.
- Ford Motor Company's Edsel
- De Lorean automobile
- Electric cars - Ford Motor Company and General Motors, who only had lukewarm interest in the technology, have dropped production of their electric car models.
- Sinclair C5 - a battery powered car designed by Sir Clive Sinclair
- The Bricklin SV-1
- The General Motors V-8-6-4 variable cylinder engine.
- The IBM 7030, also known as Stretch, was IBM's first attempt at building a supercomputer. Its actual performance was less than one third of its original specification. This resulted in IBM drastically dropping the price and losing money on every machine sold.
- The ILLIAC IV array processor supercomputer.
- Microsoft Windows 1.0 was a huge flop because its sales were low, it was very slow, needed a lot of memory for the time, and practically no software was ever written for it.
- Microsoft Bob.
- Apple has had flops, notably the Apple III, Apple Lisa, and arguably the Apple Newton.
- IBM had the IBM PS/2 and the IBM PCjr.
- IBM's 4" diameter floppy disk drive, introduced at about the same time as Seagate's 3" floppy, Hitachi's 3.25" floppy, and Sony's 3.5" floppy. (All but Sony's flopped).
- The Commodore Amiga was a flop in the United States (but was successful in Europe).
- Amiga CDTV - This early multimedia computer was overpriced and suffered from using the obsolete AmigaOS 1.3, when version 2.0 was already available.
- Data Play CD replacement disk technology. Cited by Jim Louderback as one of the "eight biggest tech flops ever (http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ttzd/20031223/tc-techtues-zd/115253&cid=1739&ncid=1729)".
- Go (pen computing corporation), cited by Jim Louderback as one of the "eight biggest tech flops ever".
- Intel expected the Itanium processor (referred to by detractors as "the Itanic") to revolutionize the microprocessor industry, but after 7 years of development and billions of dollars spent the first Itanium chip proved an utter technical and commercial failure. However the project still goes on, and Itanium 2 is an improvement. (Furthermore, the Itanium had the valuable side effect of killing competition; its development caused several competing chips, such as the Alpha and advanced version of the Sparc, to be abandoned by timid management).
- Iomega Clik! drive. Cited by Jim Louderback as one of the "eight biggest tech flops ever".
- Magic Cap, an early PDA OS which failed to take off, and was eventually made irrelevant by the success of the Palm Pilot. Cited by Jim Louderback as one of the "eight biggest tech flops ever".
- In the 1980s, Commodore International became the first company to sell a million home computers. Hoping to repeat the success of its multimillion-selling VIC-20 and C-64 computers, it released the Commodore Plus/4 in 1984. It flopped. Commodore tried--and mostly failed--for 10 years to duplicate the C-64's success and went bankrupt in 1994.
- The INMOS Transputer, a brave attempt at a different way of computing - but now largely forgotten.
- WebTV (now MSN TV). Internet delivery via television set and set-top box. Cited by Jim Louderback as one of the "eight biggest tech flops ever".
- The Sinclair QL an unsuccessful attempt by Sinclair Research to make a 16 bit computer in the mid 1980s
Video game system flops
- Sega has had numerous flops in North America, for example the Sega Saturn, the Sega Nomad, the Sega Master System II and III, and the Sega 32X. (The Master System was successful in Europe and Brazil, and the Sega Saturn was successful in Japan.) The Sega Megadrive was not well received in Japan. Sega has since abandoned hardware production altogether.
- Nintendo's most notable flop is the much-maligned Nintendo Virtual Boy. It also has a history of introducing novel controllers that are utilized by only a handful of games, such as the Power Glove, Power Pad, Robotic Operating Buddy, SNES mouse, and the SNES light gun.
- The Game.com handheld
- The Atari Jaguar console and the Atari Lynx handheld.
- Daikatana, the hyped and massively delayed video game from John Romero.
- The Atari 2600 version of E.T.
- The Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man
- The Amiga CD-32
- The Compact Disc-Interactive (CD-I) player, a "multimedia machine" jointly developed by Philips and Sony. It was considered overpriced and underpowered.
- The 3DO Multiplayer, a "multimedia machine" (it was marketed as a family entertainment device and not just a video game console) designed by R.J. Mical and the team behind the Amiga and marketed by Trip Hawkins, founder of Electronic Arts. It was introduced at $699, twice the price of most game consoles.
- The Apple Pippin, a games console based on MacOS and the PowerPC - was abandoned before production, clearly was unlikely to have succeeded.
- The Nokia N-Gage - many video gamers simply mocked the system because of its clumsy design and this led to poor sales.
Other commercial flops
- The 1976 Summer Olympics, which left the host city of Montreal in debts that it spent years paying off
- The Betamax VCR system - after some initial success it was soundly beaten in the marketplace by VHS. Betamax failed in part because it was not an open standard.
- The Digital Compact Cassette - a format introduced by Philips, which lost out to Minidisc and CD-R
- DIVX, a take-off on DVD that required users to pay per viewing. Retail electronics giant and DIVX backer Circuit City lost about $200m over the fiasco.
- EBook devices. Between 1999 and 2002, a number of companies, notably Gemstar, jockeyed for control of this supposedly vast, lucrative market, believing that consumers would pay hardcover prices for a severely limited number of book titles in DRM-encrypted formats that tied each electronic copy to a unique serialized hardware device. In 2002 the "eBooks are dead" meme became widespread. In 2003, Gemstar pulled the plug on its servers and Barnes and Noble ceased offering eBook content of any kind.
- The Elcaset audio format - an attempt at a higher-quality replacement for the compact cassette by Sony.
- Lymeswold cheese (UK)
- The Millennium Dome - a commercial and public relations disaster, it now lies empty in Greenwich, England.
- New Coke, introduced April 23rd 1985. The Coca-Cola company changed the formula and taste of its flagship product, a universally successful drink whose name was almost synonymous with soft drinks. It was a marketing and public relations debacle, and the company had to backtrack and return to the older formula. However, when they went back to the original formula, demand for the classic taste grew to a greater extent than before New Coke, propelling Coca-Cola to a market lead over rival Pepsi - making the situation an unintentional success for Coca-Cola.
- The Tanganyika groundnut scheme, a plan by Clement Attlee's British government, financed by British tax-payers, to cultivate tracts of what is now Tanzania with peanuts.
- Crystal Pepsi was Pepsi's answer to New Coke
- Dasani, Coca-Cola's brand of bottled water, was a flop in the UK after it emerged it was essentially just Sidcup tap water, treated to make it more pure but in fact containing high levels of bromate.
- Pepsi Blue
Flops in science and engineering
A scientific flop may be something that took years of man-hours and a lot of money to complete (or perhaps never completed) and ended in failure.
Technical failures in aerospace
- The Brewster F2A Buffalo - this World War II fighter aircraft was outclassed by most Axis fighters early in the war but held its own on some occasions
- The Europa rocket failed five times, without a single successful launch
- The Messerschmitt Me 163 was so dangerous that it killed more Luftwaffe pilots than Allied airmen.
- Most reusable space vehicles: Shuttle Buran, HOTOL, various NASA space planes, arguably the Space Shuttle.
- The Spruce Goose flying boat, Howard Hughes' white elephant.
- Project Vanguard (1958), the first attempt by the United States to put a satellite into orbit. The project managers insisted on using a new, civilian-designed, purpose-built rocket. There were repeated embarrassing crashes. After Sputnik, it was quickly decided to use proven military missile designs as the base for future space attempts.
- The Chauchat light machine gun - the French weapon of WWI was notorious for its unreliability, prone to jamming and lack of precision manufacturing.
- The German Maus tank was so heavy (188 tons) that it was unusable
- The British SA80 rifle was notoriously unreliable.
- Cold fusion - after much hype, claims of success proved false. (Research into cold fusion continues.)
- Project Mohole was a 1950s proposal to drill through Earth's crust and sample the material below, but it was never implemented because in the mid-1960s the planners realized it was impossible.
- MIT Media Lab founded in the 1980s to address issues of media convergence. Failed to produce more than a handful of commercially viable ideas. Media convergence occurred without the lab's help. In the early 2000s major financial mismanagement and extravagant spending by faculty forced the lab to cancel a proposed expansion. Lab continues to fight for relevance despite having no clear mission.
Civil engineering projects
- The Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsed due to resonance in a gale force wind.
USA Presidential campaigns
- In the 1912 Election, Republican incumbent William H. Taft received only 8 electoral votes to 88 for Bull Moose Party candidate Theodore Roosevelt and 435 for Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic nominee, the worst ever showing for an incumbent president. Splitting the Republican base with Roosevelt, he garnered only 23% of the popular vote, the least support ever for a major party candidate. He was also the only major party candidate in American history to lose either the electoral or popular vote to a third party candidate.
- In the 1932 Election, Republican incumbent Herbert Hoover earned 59 electoral votes and 40% of the popular vote to Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt's 472 and 58%, respectively. Having earned 444 electoral votes and 58% of the popular vote in 1928, Hoover's fall was the worst repudiation of a president in modern American history.
- In the 1964 Election, Republican Barry Goldwater got 52 electoral votes to 486 for incumbent Lyndon Johnson and lost by 22 points in the popular vote, the worst popular defeat ever for a Republican presidential nominee in the 20th Century.
- In the 1972 Election, Democrat George McGovern received only 17 electoral votes to 520 for incumbent Richard Nixon and lost by 23 points in the popular vote, the worst popular defeat for a Democratic presidential nominee in the 20th Century.
- In the 1980 Republican Primaries, John Connally spent millions of dollars hoping to win the nomination and instead ended up with only a single delegate to the convention.
- In the 1984 Election, Democrat Walter Mondale got 13 electoral votes to 525 for incumbent Ronald Reagan, the worst ever electoral defeat for a Democratic presidential nominee in the 20th Century, and lost by 18 points in the popular vote.
- In the 1992 Election, independent candidate H. Ross Perot spent millions of dollars in a national advertising campaign, and garnered vast popular support, leading Democratic nominee William H. Clinton considerably and barely trailing incumbent Republican George H. W. Bush in the early spring. However, after a disastrously planned campaign, which included his withdrawal from the race and late reentry, Perot received only 20% of the popular vote and no electoral votes.
- In 2004, Howard Dean ran for the Democratic nomination in 2004 and gaining lots of support and front-page articles in major news magazines prior to the primary elections, but ended up third in the 2004 Iowa Democratic caucuses. Afterr suffering a string of unbroken defeats, Dean won only his home state of Vermont, after he had dropped out of the race.
- The unnecessary dissolution of a favourable parliament (Assemblée nationale) in 1997 by President Jacques Chirac should have presaged an easy win for his partisans. They lost, yielding power to the opposition.
- In the 2002 presidential campaign, extreme right Jean-Marie Le Pen went in second position, just before Lionel Jospin, who said immediately he retired from politics.
- Kim Campbell led the governing Conservatives in the 1993 election campaign and succeeded in winning only two seats in the House of Commons.
- Stockwell Day became leader of the Canadian Alliance in 2000 -- despite predictions that his charismatic presence could lead the party to an electoral breakthrough, the party gained just six additional seats in that year's election, and Day proved so spectacularly ineffective as leader that thirteen caucus members quit the party a year later.
- Sir James Goldsmith's anti-EU Referendum Party failed to win a single seat in the 1997 general election, despite heavy publicity and a significant number of votes.
- The Labour Party's performance at the 1983 general election, led by Michael Foot. The manifesto was described as 'the longest suicide note in political history'.
- The Conservative Party's performance at the 1997 general election, and also at 2001 general election. In both General Elections the Conservatives were routed disasterously. Their showing was both times far worse than that of Michael Foot.
Back to Marketing Guide Index