The Tour-Along: The Museum of Failure Makes Its Debut in Los Angeles
By Mariam Makatsaria
“Oh my God,” a high-pitched female voice yelled from behind my shoulder. “Four Loko! How is that a failure?” I looked up at the two multi-colored camouflage-patterned cans sitting on a white shelf, and almost instantly, I was flooded with a memory. A cold night during my college days in Ohio. My close friend’s shabby bedroom, overflowing with candles, stacks of textbooks and a mishmash of near-clashing-colored pillows. I remember my friend, a little glaze-eyed, and her friend and her other friend. She exhaled smoke that smelled vaguely skunky and somewhat flowery as she leaned back against the headboard of her creaky bed and said: “Hey, let’s get some alcohol.” Against my better judgement, being the non-smoker in the group, I herded them into the gas station across the street. After milling around for the perfect booze, we settled on Four Loko’s adult spin on strawberry lemonade. I’m not sure what it was, but something about that fruity, fizzy drink left me obscurely satisfied. A few years later, I realized that it was considered a “public health concern” by the FDA in 2010, which urged the company to reformulate the drink.
While widely popular among college kids who just don’t know any better than to chug a drink that’s essentially a recipe for a blackout, Four Loko is now gracing the walls of The Museum of Failure in Los Angeles—a space dedicated to displaying all the products and ideas that flopped throughout history. The museum first opened its doors in downtown Helsingborg in Sweden back in June, spearheaded by psychologist and innovation researcher, Samuel West. Upon discovering that 80 to 90 percent of products plummet to their deaths shortly after launching, Samuel decided to shed light on the unspoken reality of innovation. That failure is a part of the process, and learning from mistakes is important.
The curated collection of more-than-100 items was a success, and on Dec. 2, a pop-up exhibit made its debut in LA’s Arts District. At close to two o’clock, as the crowd milled around the room, I heard several people utter the same phrase. “Oh, I remember this!” said a father to his son as they stopped in front of a purple bottle of Heinz EZ Squirt. The glow-in-the-dark ketchup somehow made its way to grocery stores in 2000, before it was discontinued because interested in the product dissipated. Other ludicrous products included the Orbitz Soda, a butter-yellow drink that boasted suspended edible balls of gelatin, Colgate Frozen Entrees (Colgate’s unsuccessful attempt at squeezing into the frozen food industry), and Kellogg’s Oj’s Cereal (aka orange-flavored cereal. Also aka—no one’s first or even last choice for breakfast).
As much as the exhibit was educational and downright funny, there was also a sense of nostalgia. I had my own “Oh, I remember this!” moments, too. Namely when passing by flops like Tidal, Barnes and Noble’s Nook and Google Glass. In fact, I can still recall a lecturer back in college swearing that wearable technology would soon be a part of our everyday lives. (Not quite, Professor. Not quite.)
On a more serious note, there was also a Segway scooter dreamed up by Segway Inc., whose former owner died after riding one of his own products off a cliff and into a river. On a less serious note, there was also Trump’s board game, his vodka, shuttle, steak. The museum even threw in his entertainment resorts for good measure.
So is it worth paying $15 for a walk around a room full of bad decisions and marketing faux pas? In my opinion, absolutely yes. The key is making sure to read all of the hilarious descriptions. (The folks at the museum know the value of a good pun.) Preferably, go with a friend. You’ll want to talk about everything you see. And if all else, um, fails, you can make a game out of spotting the typos—from spelling errors to sentences that end abruptly—peppered in the descriptions.
Items in the collection included Nike’s Magneto eyewear, a portable turntable dubbed “Sound Burger” and Ford Edsel.
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