Some people just can’t seem to do anything right — even when it comes to shopping. How can you fail at shopping, you ask? Presumably, you could leave with absolutely nothing on your list. Or you could lose your wallet on your way into the store. But there’s another way, one scientists are digging into. It’s a phenomenon witnessed in a quarter of the overall population, and those involved typically have no idea. The weirdest part? They’re virtually indistinguishable from everyone else.
They are the “harbingers of failure,” or consumers who have a unique knack for purchasing products that ultimately fail.
Studies have shown these shoppers are uniquely attracted to bad products. They buy things that are discontinued or removed from shelves soon after they’re debuted. You’ve likely noticed many of these products while stalking the aisles, then promptly forgot about them as they were never seen again. Yet these harbingers were more likely to pick up these products and take them home, according to an analysis in the Journal of Marketing Research.
Per that research, people who buy a failing product, such as Watermelon Oreos (seen below), are also more likely to buy another failing product, such as Crystal Pepsi (which we’ll look at in a bit). Why? Researchers have no idea.
What kinds of products do these people buy? If you’ve purchased any of the following, you might be a harbinger yourself.
1. Watermelon Oreos
We have even included this item on a previous list of product failures and flops: the Watermelon Oreo. Nobody can really explain the need for a watermelon-flavored Oreo. And yet, Nabisco decided to let ‘er rip and release it. Of course, there’s an Oreo flavor for just about every taste these days, so some were bound to be bizarre. But know if you were somehow attracted to the Watermelon Oreo, there’s a good chance you’ve also purchased some of these other products.
Next: That should be “crystal” clear after you see the next product.
2. Crystal Pepsi
If you’re old enough, you’ll remember Crystal Pepsi’s original introduction. It didn’t last long, of course, as it was merely Pepsi sans coloring — a clear cola. Pepsi also brought it back to stores recently in an effort to capitalize on nostalgia for the early ’90s, when the original iteration was released. You might be able to find a bottle at a local store, but for all intents and purposes, Crystal Pepsi was a flop.
Next: When life gives you lemons, don’t give them to Frito-Lay.
3. Frito-Lay Lemonade
How do you screw up lemonade? People like it. It’s delicious and refreshing. So why did Frito-Lay Lemonade — brought to you by the same people who make potato chips — flop? It’s hard to say. Perhaps it was market saturation or the idea that potato chips and lemons just don’t go together. Either way, it was a failure — another one from the folks at Pepsi, which owns Frito-Lay.
Next: Black coffee or “BlāK” coffee?
4. Coca-Cola BlāK
Pepsi’s not the only beverage company to roll the dice with its selection. That is how we ended up with Coca-Cola Blāk, a blend of both Coca-Cola and black coffee. Why would someone want such a thing? Presumably to get enough energy to keep shopping for other bad products. It didn’t last long, hitting markets in 2006 before being discontinued in 2008.
Next: Everybody loves pizza. But do you want to smell like pizza?
5. Pizza Hut body spray
If there’s one pizza company that’s going to take a beating on this list, it’s Pizza Hut. And the first strike arrives with Pizza Hut’s own body spray or perfume, Eau de Pizza. Before you ask, yes, it smells like pizza — or freshly baked dough to be precise. It was more of a promotional stunt than an actual product release, with a handful of lucky recipients receiving bottles.
Next: Do you eat your lip balm?
6. Flavored lip balms
A lot of people use lip balm. Some like the smell, and some like the taste (if some does manage to tickle your taste buds). But most people probably don’t buy it because it resembles actual food. That’s likely the fatal flaw that hindered lip balms from Cheetos and Cheez-It. Yes, these actually hit stores. And yes, the same people who were guzzling Crystal Pepsi were apt to buy them.
Next: This isn’t pizza anymore.
7. Cheeseburger pizza crusts
Hello, Pizza Hut, our old friend. We aren’t quite done with you yet.
If it wasn’t enough to spray yourself with a pizza-infused scent, perhaps you couldn’t resist trying one of Pizza Hut’s other crazy concoctions? One example — and there are many — is the cheeseburger crust. It’s exactly what it sounds like, and it didn’t really jibe with consumers. If you’re more of a hot dog person, though, don’t worry. Pizza Hut also made a pizza with hot dog crusts.
Next: Because old Coke is so last year
8. New Coke
Here’s a classic. Rather, it’s a new take on a classic. Back in the 1980s, Coca-Cola execs decided it would be a good idea to take something that wasn’t broken and try to fix it. The result? New Coke. It was released in 1985 and actually survived, in some form, until 2002. People didn’t like New Coke (or maybe the idea of New Coke) and flipped out. It’s seen as one of the biggest flops in history.
Next: Even Coke’s lack of foresight pales in comparison to what one toothpaste company tried to pull.
9. Colgate dinners
When you think of Colgate, what comes to mind? It might be a university, but for most people, it’s probably a minty toothpaste. So why, then, would a toothpaste company try to develop frozen dinners? It’s hard to say, but that’s what Colgate did, releasing its food options back in the early 1980s. It flopped, and the company has had to continue raking in the money with oral hygiene products.
Next: Two things that aren’t great for your oral hygiene? Barbecue sauce and soda. Who would think to combine the two?
10. Dr. Pepper-infused foods
Dr. Pepper, that’s who would think to combine barbecue sauce and soda. You can actually find several soda-infused sauces out there (just check Amazon), including offerings from 7-Up, A&W, and more. There are other products, too, as you can see from the Dr. Pepper-flavored pulled chicken dish above. It’s hard to say whether these products will ultimately disappear, but we all know who’s buying them: Crystal Pepsi fans.
Next: Would you pay hundreds per month for ESPN on the go?
11. The ESPN phone
Before everything and anything had an app, companies had to try other methods to invade your personal space. Facebook had a phone, for example, as did ESPN with its flip phone, Mobile ESPN. It was released in 2006, and even then it was behind the times. And the cost was outrageous at $300 for the phone itself and subscription costs that could be as much as $225 per month. It’s not hard to believe it didn’t work.
Next: Not even the president is immune.
12. Trump Steaks
Donald Trump has led a successful life. He is the president, after all. But that success has come along with its failures, one of which was Trump Steaks. Sold through Sharper Image and QVC, Trump Steaks launched in 2007 as an attempt to brand yet another product with the Trump name.
The man in charge of Trump Steaks admitted they sold almost none of them. But you can bet the people who did buy some probably slathered them with Dr. Pepper barbecue sauce and washed them down with Crystal Pepsi.
Next: Remember the Segway revolution?
13. The Segway
Finally, we end with the Segway — the scooter that was supposed to revolutionize the way we commute. Instead, the man who owned the company rode one over a cliff and died in a sad yet tasty metaphor for the Segway’s performance on the market. Yes, you can still find them around. But few people give (or gave) any serious consideration to purchasing one — unless, that is, they were one of our harbingers.