The Polaroid camera, Friendster, Four Loko, Crystal Pepsi and more.
My inspiration for this list is really simple. The U.S. government is making a good friend of mine is shut down his company. You’d probably heard of it. It’s featured as the last point of this list.
Sometimes when I’m trying to come up with a solid 11 items for a list it’s a struggle. Not this time. Off the top of my head I rattled off a few dozen products that vanished before their time. After a little research I had a few dozen more. And every time I said, “Oh yeah! Wow. I guess that isn’t around anymore. What a shame.”
Here are 11 products and brands that were killed off too soon. Dust in the wind forthcoming…
1 | Four Loko (original recipe)
I talked about Four Loko in my list earlier this year on caffeine, where I concluded that you’d need to have a cup of coffee with four or five shots of whiskey to equal the caffeine and alcohol in one can of Four Loko. So, yeah, it was serious stuff.
But does that really mean it needed to be banned? Sure, it was extraordinarily hardcore. Yes, it could be dangerous. But it’s still pretty insulting for the government to step in and essentially say, “you’re not smart enough to realize a can with pretty colors might be really potent.”
Americans: Lacking the intelligence to resist pretty colors. God forbid one day our country’s invaded by people wearing tie-dye, we’ll surrender in an hour.
2 | Polaroid cameras
It’s actually difficult to remember the era when someone took a photo of you and (1) you couldn’t see what you looked like immediately and (2) it wasn’t instantly posted for the world to see. Wonder why people today have more eating disorders, chin lifts and body-shaping underwear? Seeing photos of yourself on a daily basis distorts everything.
Before the digital camera and cameras-on-phones era, the only real time photography happened with Polaroids. But they didn’t make people self-conscious. They made people happy. A poorly-lit, slightly faded, but instantly gratifying photo of that moment was a good thing, NOT a reason to only eat salad for a week.
3 | Sega Dreamcast
For a video game entry, I debated between a bunch –Neo Geo, Power Pad, Virtual Boy, Lynx, the Adventure Island series — but I settled on the Sega Dreamcast. Even though I’ve occasionally made fun of it before, it was ahead of its time in both its games, its controller and its online capabilities. And Sega didn’t deserve to have THIS be their final console. (That clearly should’ve been Sega CD.)
4 | Apple Newton
When you saw “Apple Newton,” did you think of the cookie or the old Apple personal digital assistant. Because, somehow, both are perfect candidates for this list. The Apple Newton was killed in 1998 because the concept was just slightly out in front of technology and the market; Apple Newtons were mysteriously killed off a few years ago by Fig Newtons in a jealous rage. Feel free to overanalyze yourself based on whether you gravitated toward desserts or cult-of-Apple consumerism.
5 | Friendster
Ya know, Mark Zuckerberg is the billionaire for creating the third major social network. George Friendster should at least be a millionaire for creating the first.
6 | Saturn and Hummer
Two car brands that made two opposite but unambiguous statements. You were either broadcasting that you were the pinnacle of practicality or broadcasting that you were the pinnacle of impracticality. Unless a Red Dawn situation actually happened, which would be the one and only time the Hummer driver would become the practical one.
7 | Newsweek
The final print edition of Newsweek comes out next month. And while I know it’s best not to get in the habit of mourning the deaths of various print journalism institutions, I’m still disappointed. Time is going to get lazy. No more crazy moves like darkening OJ’s skin or having a woman breastfeeding her college-age son on the cover. No competition equals a slow, passive trek into banality.
8 | Crystal Pepsi
I was at the perfect age to be susceptible to gimmicks when Crystal Pepsi came out — meaning I bought it and I drank it. More than once. And as I remember it, there was one fatal flaw. It was marketed as tasting just like Pepsi… and tasted nothing at all like Pepsi. Which is why, I think, it made a fortune in its first year on the market and plummeted in its second. Everyone was willing to be fooled once. But we won’t be fooled again. (“Looks like the only thing clear here… is that it’s not Pepsi.” Sunglasses. Yeeeaaaah!)
9 | Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific! shampoo
I never used the stuff but I do love — LOVE — the naming convention. Other than this and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!, are there any products that use the “exclamatory sentence” branding style? I believe not. And had Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific! not been so ruthlessly killed, perhaps we’d have a lot more of them. If Circuit City had been called “So Many Discounted Electronics You’ll Plotz!” I guarantee it would still be in business.
10 | Zima
Zima died in 2008, long after Smirnoff Ice zhowed up and took over the zurprisingly competitive “I want to drink zomething out of a bottle but not beer” market. Zima was zupposed to be about a zophisticated, urbane good time; “icing” proves that Smirnoff Ice did not carry on that tradition. Zociety is zuffering Zima’s abzence.
11 | BuckyBalls
I was inspired to write this list because of BuckyBalls. If you’re not familiar, BuckyBalls are small, powerful magnets that you can sculpt into shapes. They’ve won all sorts of “gift of the year” awards. My friend Craig is the person behind BuckyBalls and founded the company that sells them. At least for a little while longer.
A few months ago, the Consumer Product Safety Commission decided to aggressively target BuckyBalls because a small handful of parents didn’t read the *five* warnings on the packaging and product about keeping them away from children. So a few children swallowed them. Swallowing magnets is certainly bad but there were no deaths, and less than two dozen incidents among millions of products sold.
But when the government decides it’s going to shut you down, they’re going to shut you down. So they ruled, essentially, that the warnings on the product don’t work. Their entire agency runs on pushing companies to add warning labels… and now they’re saying that warning labels aren’t good enough. I hate to think of what that’s going to mean for the poison industry.
Anyway, it’s horrible. So I’d buy the final inventory of BuckyBalls while you can. I’ve had mine on my desk for years and still mess around with them all the time. But please only buy them if you, or the person you’re giving them to, can handle the responsibility of not eating them or feeding them to children. I think you’ve got it in you.