Feature Story | 6-Jul-2023

Chocolate-flavored toothpaste and purple ketchup: Learning from failed products

University of Cincinnati

With a collection of more than 100 failed products — including purple ketchup, chocolate-flavored toothpaste and a pet rock — Elliott Manzon teaches his marketing students at the University of Cincinnati that it’s OK to take risks and fail.

Manzon, an associate professor – educator in UC’s Carl H. Lindner College of Business, finds a great way to engage his students is to show them examples of failed products. Some were novelties that enjoyed brief success before losing their luster while others never took off, but they all provide lessons.

“We’re trying to teach students that it’s OK to fail,” Manzon said. “Oftentimes there’s all this pressure that they have to be perfect. But if we’re pushing ourselves and trying to learn new things, ultimately there’s going to be some failures. It’s all about learning from those failures and growing.”

One of Manzon’s favorite failed products is Starbucks soda, a coffee-flavored soda that came out in the early 1990s.

“People bought it, and no one rebought it,” he said. “But from this they learned people liked bottled drinks. So even though the soda was a failure, the learning from it led to them creating the bottled Frappuccino drinks, which ultimately became a multi-billion-dollar product.”

While Starbucks benefitted from taking a risk, Manzon also points to Blockbuster, which failed to innovate and went bankrupt.

“They didn’t take risks,” he said. “They just stuck with what they were doing. They actually had an opportunity to buy Netflix, and they didn’t. Because they weren’t willing to take those risks, they end up failing for good.”

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