Crazy products that summed up 2019

Product fails of 2019

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

Usually it is the events and characters of a year that define it – disasters, scandals and maybe a celebrity or politician. Yes, 2019 had more than its share of these, but consider just a few of the products that emerged – or at least become prominent in the year just ended.

RING

Introduced in 2018 as a startup-created gizmo doorbell that allows people to check out visitors through a smartphone-connected camera. In those naive days of 2018 it seemed innocent enough, but by 2019 it became an Amazon-owned product that encourages people to spy on and share video of anyone who doesn’t look like them, and is increasingly tied into partnerships with police departments all over the country. Not only a high-tech way to answer the door, now it’s helping build the people’s surveillance state, too! I nominate RING as the iconic must-have nanny-state home accessory that we, as with all of our so-called “smart” devices, have been convinced that we should buy.

I'm not sure if this is a promise or a threat, but either way, I don't believe it. Photo: Morf Morford
I’m not sure if this is a promise or a threat, but either way, I don’t believe it. Photo: Morf Morford

JUUL

This e-cigarette is, arguably, a triumph of industrial design. Its marriage of form and function, promising to help people quit smoking traditional cigarettes, won awards and press plaudits for performing just as it was supposed to.

But, again, 2019 took its toll on a product.

Being a de facto stand-in for the e-cigarette category took a disastrous turn in 2019, when a rash of e-cigarette-related illnesses and deaths broke out this summer. Soon it became obvious that teenagers who had never smoked standard tobacco products made up a huge chunk of JUUL’s customers. And, who knew? candy-flavored marketing that seemed to target them.

With revelations that JUUL was marketed to get people (far under legal tobacco buying age) to START smoking – not quit, they became the latest brand villain, not far behind WeWork or Uber.

When it comes to clothes or fashion crimes in 2019, it’s difficult to even know where to begin.

Christmas gave us the cocaine snorting Santa available via Walmart. (1*)

Who could resist a product description like this;

“We all know how snow works. It’s white, powdery and the best snow comes straight from South America, That’s bad news for jolly old St. Nick, who lives far away in the North Pole. That’s why Santa really likes to savor the moment when he gets his hands on some quality, grade A, Colombian snow.”

In an era when politicians up to Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau have been publicly shamed for wearing “black-face” in their wild younger years, what must-have clothing option does Gucci offer?

Yes, a “blackface” pullover sweater (right after pulling its “Coolest monkey in the Jungle” hoodie featuring, yes, a black boy as a model). (2*)

The turtleneck black wool balaclava sweater covers the nose and includes an exaggerated red cut-out for the mouth. It was being sold for only $890 in Gucci stores and online.

The whole idea of “Fast Fashion” from H&M to Forever 21, among many others, took a hit with the bankruptcy of Forever 21 in 2019.

This sign is from a department store in London, England. I'm not sure if it is describing children's clothing or their reaction to it. Photo: Morf Morford
This sign is from a department store in London, England. I’m not sure if it is describing children’s clothing or their reaction to it. Photo: Morf Morford

The ultimate case of “you had one job”

The grand prize for new product fail has to go the Boeing 737 MAX.

Airplanes are very odd products. As individuals, we rarely, if ever buy one, even though we might use them multiple times in any given year.

Most of us put a lot more thought into the brand of the service or airline that sold us a ticket than the details of the actual winged metal vehicle we end up sitting in.

But the fourth generation of Boeing’s 737 series became a familiar – even household – name for the worst possible reason: literally falling from the sky, twice. The tragic incidents, in which 346 people died, resulted in the plane being grounded. In December, Boeing announced it would make the extraordinary move of suspending production of the plane; the assembly plant reportedly employs 12,000 workers, and its production involves more than 600 suppliers. The latest speculation is that the 737 MAX won’t likely be approved to return to service until February – if ever.

About 400 planes sit in storage waiting for the dust to settle on this controversy. As you might imagine, stock prices are volatile and lawsuits are everywhere.

A Seattle area saying of just a few years ago was “If it’s not Boeing, I’m not going.” Now we are not so sure.

Whatever happens, flyers are likely to be very aware in the future of whether or not they’ve boarded one. (3*)

Many companies never recover from a failure on this scale.

(1*) https://nypost.com/2019/12/08/walmart-apologizes-for-sweater-featuring-santa-with-cocaine/

(2*) https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/gucci-apologizes-stops-selling-890-blackface-sweater-n968681

(3*) You can see more on the Boeing 737 MAX here – https://www.barrons.com/articles/boeing-stock-737-max-51577220535

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