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Are Corporations Smart Enough to Rule The World? Not These …

16th October 1957: A Ford Edsel on display at a motor show. (Photo by M. McKeown/Express/Getty Images)

The recent Supreme Court ruling in Montana has many potential voters convinced that corporate greed, and mountains of money, will soon influence election results all across the fruited plain. Corporations are invincible. Everything they touch turns to gold.

Corporations Are Only As Smart As The People Who Run Them

What many voters, who fear this influence, fail to realize, is this. There are stupid corporations just like there are stupid people. Just because a corporation is here today, doesn’t mean it will be around tomorrow. Some of the biggest household names have gone out of business in the past few years.

Border’s Books, Linens & Things, Montgomery Ward, Circuit City, and Mervyns are just a few of the most recognizable names that are no longer with us.

Take a walk down memory lane with me while I revisit some of my favorite corporate mistakes.

Gerber Baby Food

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Doing business in America is pretty easy for most big companies. The CEO’s and board of directors grew up in the US; understand the language, culture, etc. But trouble is waiting when you try to introduce products in foreign lands. Especially when you make the mistake of assuming foreigners think and shop like Americans.

Available food has always been a problem in Africa. So, with the help of the UN, many American companies began shipping canned food to African nations. Canned corn, beans, peas, tomatoes, were all a big hit as you might imagine. So what’s the problem with Gerber Baby Food?

The problem can be reduced to one word, “illiteracy.” Most Africans could not read the labels of the canned food they were buying; so they relied on the picture on the label as their guide to what was inside the can. Imagine an African shopper walking down the aisle and, picture of corn, corn inside, picture of green beans, and green beans inside, picture of baby? — Well, you do the math.

The Edsel

(Photo by M. McKeown/Express/Getty Images)

If you are over 40, you have not only heard of, but have probably seen the Edsel. Ford introduced the Edsel as an upscale car to compete more favorably with Buick and Pontiac, both of which were higher in price than Ford.

The Edsel would be the Olympic equivalent of falling off the balance beam and doing a full face plant into the mat. It was arguably the most colossal flop in history. To say it was an ugly car would do a great injustice to ugly cars everywhere. Many industry experts estimated that the name alone cost the company about 200,000 fewer units to be sold.

To increase sales Ford got the genius idea to give away ponies at the dealership. Test drive an Edsel and get a chance to win a pony. Most people took the $200 cash alternative. And Ford was stuck with over 1,000 hungry ponies they couldn’t give away.

It featured a giant “O” in the middle of the grill that had to constantly be increased in size to allow enough air to cool the engine. Its push button transmission was in the middle of the steering wheel and often stuck. It died a welcome death after just three years. The only good thing to be said about the Edsel would be that over the years it is one of the most collectable and most restored cars around.

Betamax

(Photo by Nesster Photostream Flickr)

I can speak to this one from personal experience. I sold both of them during the 1970’s. Sony had the Betamax and JVC had the VHS system. Sony made every possible mistake possible in marketing, selling and promoting the Betamax. It’s pretty obvious that marketing and advertising failed to connect with design and production before this disaster rolled off the line.

The design was hideous; a black box with an analog clock sticking out of the top. Every feature of the Betamax was better on the VHS. The VHS system offered a longer recording time, more events in memory, and a much more attractive design.

The only thing Betamax had going for it was it’s superior recording quality. Before digital recording most commercial broadcast news stations and networks all preferred the Beta format over VHS. Especially since most news videos were short and didn’t require the 8 hour time of the VHS.

Customers however, were not impressed. Features and convenience won out over Beta’s superior quality and higher price. Today it hardly matters since the DVD and digital recording has replaced both formats. Technology moves way too fast. Where’s a good 8-Track when you need one?

New Coke

(Photo by Shirlaine Forrest/Getty Images for Coca-Cola)

In the mid 1980’s Coke was losing market share to Pepsi. The decision was made to change the super secret Coke formula to make it a little sweeter. The formula is so secret it’s not even patented so absolutely no one knows all the formula. Parts of it are kept in different locations.

The mistake Coke made was leaking the news to the public that a change was coming in order to promote the new version, “New Coke.” Over 80,000 customers called to warn Coke executives, “Do not change my COKE!” Coke felt once customers tasted the new version they would become fans. Two hundred thousand taste tests between “old Coke,” “Pepsi,” and “New Coke,” were done. And the winner is — “New Coke.” However, despite the taste test results, old Coke still outsold New Coke overwhelmingly. So “New Coke” slowly disappeared from store shelves to be replaced by “Classic Coke.” Are you drinking some variation of “New Coke” today? Who knows?

Some Final Thoughts

The next time you are feeling small. Feeling that you are at the mercy of huge conglomerates and big money, keep one very important thing in mind. People just as dumb as you are running the show up there. I know it sure makes me feel better.

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