Coming next month to the Mall of America: the Museum of Failure. More than 150 exhibits, each an example of a product that cannonballed into the pool and belly-flopped, hard. The press release has the right attitude: It's all about applauding those who took a chance. After all, "Embracing failure and taking meaningful risks paves the way for real innovation and progress."
One of the products shown on the exhibit's website is "Colgate Beef Lasagna," which makes you think of Listerine Smoothies or Pepsodent Pot Pie. The product might be apocryphal, and the museum's head admits it has been reconstructed based on the styles of the '80s. Either it did not exist, or someone went back in time with a very specific mission. Wonder if he bumped into Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"Hey, dude, you time traveling too? What's your mission."
"I must find Sarah Connor and kill her to stop a series of 'Terminator' sequels."
"Cool. I'm looking for a toothpaste meat entree. Well, see you later! Much later."
New Coke is among the failures.No one knew exactly why we needed New Coke. No one had been pouring out their Coke and saying, "This tastes like it did last week, and the year before. Every time I reach for a Coke, because I want a Coke, it tastes like Coke. If only there were something that was Coke, because I like Coke, but it was new."
It had something to do with taste tests, I guess. Perhaps they had seen the results of the Pepsi Challenge, whereby people sampled Pepsi and Coke, and a certain percentage preferred the one that was just a bit colder and didn't come from a container that had been open an hour and gone flat.
Kidding! I'm sure the Pepsi Challenge was held to the rigorous standards of fairness, and if the results had gone the other way, the board would have met in a dark, hushed room and dissolved the company.
I can see it now: The CEO brushes away a tear and faces the board.
"The people have spoken. We gambled it all, and we lost. It has been an honor and a privilege serving with you." Then he jumps out the window.
Some people say "New Coke" was a clever way of building outrage, so people could demand the return of old Coke (which technically was called Coke Classic). If so, I think we would have had a whistleblower show up on "60 Minutes."
"We have with us tonight . . . Sir, it's not necessary to actually blow a whistle."
"Sorry. Thought it would set the mood."
"Can you describe the moment you learned the truth?"
"Well, I was instrumental in developing New Coke. It was a secret project, code-named Novel Experimental Wet Carbonated Oldcoke-Killing Elixir, so if anyone heard about it, they wouldn't know what we were making."
"Even though the initials were literally NEW COKE?"
"Yes, well, that was a strange coincidence. I worked on it for years, tinkering with the standard recipe to introduce new flavor notes. Rutabaga tested poorly. Prune showed some promise, but it had a side effect we called 'Lotza Trotza.' Eventually we came up with the recipe that would be New Coke, which was old Coke, with Mexican saccharine. I didn't know what they put in that stuff.Turned out it was granulated mothballs.
"Anyway, after the sales numbers came out, I was sure I would be fired, so I hired a young hacker to see if he could uncover something I could use to keep my job. You know, blackmail. He was a good hacker — typed really fast, said, 'We're in.' And, 'I've never seen code like this.' So I knew he was the real deal. He found a document that said it was all a ruse, the whole project."
"And you have that document here tonight."
"Oh, was I supposed to bring it? I thought the whistle was proof enough." (Blows whistle)
In a way, most products fail, eventually. There was a craze for "clear" things in the '90s, as if something you could see through was somehow more natural. Pretty sure I can see through the Windex Vinegar cleaning spray I use, and I don't recommend hydrating with that.
But for a while everything was clear. I'm surprised you couldn't buy a clear automobile, just transparent plastic for a body. Some franchise operation probably lost half a billion trying to make clear pizza, and one of those big newspaper chains no doubt laid out $200 million on clear paper. "Look! You can see all the news at once!"
I look forward to attending the exhibit, and I hope it has the right spirit. Celebrating the people who tried to do something novel, upend a paradigm, cash out fast on a new fad. Perhaps there will be an "At least they tried" sign over the exit.
Perhaps the door it will be clear, and you'll walk right into it, bang your nose and feel that you, too, have failed. We all fail. This column, for example, is supposed to have a zingy last line that ties everything together.