I thought I would look at some world-class new product failures and see if there is some learning behind what happened. Let’s start with Old Breed.
When I arrived at Seagram the product was in a few markets and was failing miserably. The premise was interesting. The owner, aware of ‘shot and a beer’ consumption, decided that a beer flavored whiskey was a good idea and pushed for it.
I suppose that the equivalency issue also had a role to play. A blurring of the lines between beer and spirits sort of makes them equivalent from a product standpoint and flies in the face of the lack of equivalency in excise taxes.
Finally, beer flavored whiskey was seen as a novel new product idea.
The product failed on all counts. Wanting a shot of whiskey with a beer chaser is not the same as a whiskey that tastes like beer. There are expectations about the taste of a shot with a beer that can’t be met with a bottled version. Even if the product tasted great, it can’t replicate the fresh version – much less with a product that tasted like stale beer.
Everyone knew this, I learned when I got there, but no one wanted to tell the emperor that his baby was ugly (to mix metaphors).
So the product limped along until a trade researcher interviewed a retailer who went ballistic when asked about Old Breed as in, “tell them to get this crap out of here.”
What I love about market research is that political correctness has little to no role to play in providing information. As a result, the owner learned what the management team was loath to tell him. The product was pulled from the shelves the next day.
To succeed a new product has to be both unique and relevant.
Concepts and premises can be brilliant but the product must deliver. It’s about what’s in the bottle.
A management team concerned about being candid will not succeed.
And, a corporate culture that creates an environment that punishes the messenger is doomed to failure.