A flop

A “flop” is something that was supposed to be great, but was actually terrible.

Today's story: Segway scooters
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A flop

A flop is something that was supposed to be great, but was actually terrible.

Now before you protest that I’m being unfair to the Segway, here’s what I said. I said, the Segway is not a total flop. To be sure, “not a total flop” isn’t exactly a compliment. It just means the Segway was not a total failure, even though it didn’t live up to its founder’s lofty vision. The inventor was rich before he even started Segway, and he probably made a lot of money when he sold the company to the ill-fated British entrepreneur. It’s just that Segway didn’t even come close to living up to the hype at its release. Most people would describe the Segway as a flop, but I’m being nice by saying it was not a total flop.

Can you think of any other revolutionary products that were a flop? I’ve got a good one. How about Google Glass? Wasn’t that a flop? This was Google’s creepy set of glasses that were basically a Google search engine built into your lenses. That came out right around the same time as facial recognition and it led to privacy concerns. Google eventually discontinued Google Glass.

Facebook and Amazon have both made phones. Did you know that? It’s okay if you didn’t know that, because they were both flops. The Amazon phone did little more than let you buy things on Amazon; talk about a lack of imagination! The Facebook phone was a good value. It cost just 99 cents in the US—less than a bag of chips—and was great if all you wanted was to browse Facebook.

Tata Motors, a carmaker in India, introduced a car that cost $2,500 in 2008. It was supposed to be a vehicle that the middle class could afford in India. To get the price that low, Tata had to cut a lot of corners with quality and safety; some original models burst into flames. It discontinued the Nano after selling only 8,000 of them.

MoviePass was a flop. We talked about that in Lesson 192. Crystal Pepsi was a flop. Oh boy, I remember this. This was 1992. I was eleven years old, this is prime soda-drinking years, eleven years old. Pepsi came out with a clear version of its cola. The idea was, it was supposed to taste just like Pepsi, only instead of being dark brown, it was clear. Unfortunately, despite being marketed as similar to normal Pepsi, it tasted different. It was—and I’m not making this up—intended to communicate a message of purity and health, by being transparent. Crystal Pepsi was a flop.

But this all pales in comparison to perhaps the biggest flop in all of consumer history. The year was 1985. I was not yet in my prime soda-drinking years. I was still drinking apple juice in 1985. On April 23, 1985 at a ceremony at New York City’s Lincoln Center, Coca-Cola announced it had re-formulated its recipe. In the words of Coke’s CEO, the new cola recipe was “bolder” and “rounder” and “more harmonious”—whatever that means. It was to be called “New Coke.”

It was a success at first; many people did prefer the new taste. But others hated the new recipe and resented the company for taking away their favorite soft drink. Soon after the old recipe was retired, Coke began getting thousands of phone calls per day from people saying they felt they had been robbed of something important. Coca-Cola hired a psychologist to listen in on these calls, to better help the company understand why emotions were running so high. The psychologist said people were talking about losing the original Coca-Cola the same way they talk about experiencing a death in the family. Soon, the nation was in open revolt against New Coke.

Pepsi delighted in Coca-Cola’s misfortune. Pepsi gave all its employees a day off to celebrate their rival’s epic misstep. Seventy-nine days later, Coca-Cola reversed course. They announced it would reintroduce its original formula under the brand, Coca-Cola Classic. The most popular television news presenter of the day, Peter Jennings, broke into a popular daytime soap opera to announce to an anxious nation that the original Coca-Cola would be back. A United States Senator—on the floor of the US Senate—called the return of the original recipe “a meaningful moment in US history.”

New Coke was a flop—a flop of epic proportions, one of the biggest flops in all of business history. Or was it? Some people maintain that this was all a publicity stunt. Prior to New Coke, Coca-Cola had been losing market share to Pepsi. After New Coke—and after reintroducing its old recipe as “Coca-Cola Classic”—Coke experienced a resurgence. It kept producing New Coke—I tasted it, but preferred the original—until the early 1990s. Coca-Cola cemented its position above its rival Pepsi, and has never looked back. Some people think that Coca-Cola purposely engineered the whole thing to attract attention and to revitalize the brand. Coca-Cola denies it. So you be the judge: was New Coke really a flop?

JR’s song of the week

I nominated today’s song. It’s by Bruce Springsteen and it’s called “Thunder Road.” It’s my favorite Bruce Springsteen song. I always like songs that find a way to mix in instruments that are not traditionally part of a pop song. My favorite part is after all the lyrics are over, the combination of the saxophone and keyboards. It is number 86 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time and has been covered by a lot of other musicians in its time. So listen to the original Bruce version; if you like it, then look for the country version by Eric Church or the version by the Brazilian singer Renato Russo. “Thunder Road” by Bruce Springsteen is the song of the week.

See you next time!

We made it to the end of another lesson; thanks for coming along with us. I hope you enjoyed this one.

If only we had a time machine and we could go back to the days where the biggest national scandal was New Coke. Wouldn’t that be nice? By the way, Coca-Cola reintroduced New Coke as part of a promotion with Netflix—the last season of “Stranger Things” takes place in 1985. A limited run of New Coke was sold online—and the web site crashed from all the demand.

All right, enough about New Coke. We’ll be back on Monday. But remember about the webinar: the best technology tools for learning English in 2020, coming up next week. You can register at PlainEnglish.com on the home page or on your dashboard if you’re a free member.

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Story: Segway scooters