I stood beside my father looking at Apple’s Newton, a precursor to the iPhone, that was launched in 1993. We were at the Museum of Failure (Innovation) in Helsingborg, Sweden.
“I remember when it came out. I wanted one,” my father said. “It disappeared from the market before I could lay my hands on it.”
Apparently Apple mania was a pre-millennial phenomenon too. I had never seen a Newton before, and had only heard stories about it. The device—larger than my fist and accompanied with a stylus—was ahead of its time, my father reminisced. The Newton didn’t appear user-friendly, but it was certainly packed with the features of a powerful computer from that time.
The Museum of Failure, which opened in June 2017, was also packed—but with spectacular flops, some ill-timed flunks, and some absolute no-hopers (Heinz’s green ketchup anyone?). The space is the brainchild of curator Samuel West, who told us, “The idea behind this concept is to celebrate failures, and to learn from them.” He had walked over to show us a finger glove with which one could browse a smartphone while protecting the screen from oily prints. Who would have thought we needed such an innovation?
Helsingborg, though Sweden’s eighth largest city, has a population of only around 1,30,000. It has little to boast about in terms of attractions, except for a beach and the Swedish royal family’s country mansion, Sofiero. However, since the opening of the museum, Helsingborg has seen a surge of tourists queuing up to visit its galleries of corporate failures.
The museum is in a by-lane close to the city centre, but will soon shift to a bigger location to accommodate an ever-increasing collection. Currently, it has about 100 installations.
By: PepsiCo, 1992-93
Crystal was a clear drink made by the company to match to the theme of purity, a fad in the early ’90s. The product received a positive response during the initial testing and launch, and PepsiCo poured millions into its marketing campaign. Not to be outdone, Coca-Cola launched a similar clear soft drink, Tab Clear, in the same year. Both brands died fairly quickly; consumers didn’t like the taste, and the drinks were discontinued once their novelty faded. There was no Crystal Pepsi launch in India, so I never heard about it. Luckily for me, West had scored a bottle, and he let me have a sip from it. It didn’t taste bad.
By: The Coca-Cola Company,
Did you know that Coca-Cola once launched a coffee drink? The idea may not seem too outlandish, for cola drinks do have caffeine in them, and it would have been natural to consider an extension into one of the world’s favourite beverages. The drink was aimed at “sophisticated consumers: male, above 30 years” The taste didn’t resonate with most people, and Coca-Cola took the brand off the market. However, it launched coffee machines under the same brand name in 2010.
By: Bic, 2011
The ballpoint pen company once launched a pen specifically for women. It had floral patterns and glitter on its plastic body and, well, the rest was the same. The company claimed that it fitted comfortably in a woman’s hand. The product was a complete bust, and was ridiculed from the start. It’s when corporations run out of ideas for innovation that such futile inventions are born.
By: Bofors, 1968-71
In India, the weapons manufacturer Bofors has a notorious name, thanks to its association with bribery scandals. Before this though, Bofors tried to make itself a household name by launching “peace products”, essentially goods for common household use, such as toothpaste. However, rumours that these toothpastes had toxic materials killed the brand’s image, and Bofors went back to making guns.
No More Woof
By: No More Woof, 2013-14
Could a headphone-like-contraption for pets communicate their innermost thoughts, such as “I’m hungry” or “Leave me alone”? Apparently, a lot of people thought it could, and invested money in this Nordic start-up, which provided convincing prototypes and demos. The company claimed to use “advanced brainwave measurement equipment together with new software” to identify 14 separate thoughts. However, no commercial product ever came out of the start-up. The website, www.nomorewoof.com, still exists, but has a disclaimer claiming that the product is a work in progress.
By: Peek Inc., 2009-10
Around the time when frenzy around Twitter was peaking, an American company launched a dedicated device to provide users access to their Twitter stream on the move. The $200 device served no other purpose than to read or write tweets. And it chirped every time a new tweet arrived. But was it really necessary? The market gave its answer, and the product didn’t survive more than a year. On its launch, Gizmodo ran a story titled, “The TwitterPeek Is So Dumb It Makes My Brain Hurt”.
Trump, The Game
By: Milton Bradley Company and Parker Brothers, 1989-90; re-launch in 2004
Endorsed by Donald Trump himself, this game was expected to be a big hit and sell close to two million units. At its first launch, it managed to scrape through about 8,00,000 units. Not bad for a pretty boring, overly complex Monopoly-inspired game, which came with 10 pages of instructions. Trump, who got 60 per cent of the sales revenues, turned down an offer from a casino owner to play the game on a million-dollar wager. A simplified version of the game was released in 2004, to ride on the success of Trump’s show The Apprentice, but the game never really gained great popularity.
By: Microsoft, 2006-12
Many of us may remember Microsoft’s tepid attempt at competing with Apple’s iPod success. The expectations were high from this MP3 player, but it offered nothing new and disappointed even the most loyal Microsoft consumers. The sales never picked up, but the company kept the brand going for six years until sense prevailed and the hardware was discontinued in 2011, followed by the termination of all Zune services in 2012. To give credit to Microsoft, it managed to bounce back with its Surface line of products. Possibly, its failures with Zune helped prepare for the future.
Read more about Dr. Samuel West, the curator of the museum, here.
Getting There Helsingborg is about 108 km/1.5 hr northeast of Copenhagen by road. There are regular buses from Copenhagen to Helsingborg. Visitors can also take a train to Elsinore and then a ferry (59 km).
Open Daily noon-6 p.m.
Entry €10/ Rs745 for adults, €5/Rs370 for visitors aged 13-18, free for children below 13.