In a magazine issue packed with big ideas, it’s only fitting we pause and salute the real stinkers—the notions that were somehow greenlighted instead of prompting hushed comments about the originator seeming so normal otherwise. While sensible parties safeguarded the children and alerted authorities, the warped pet projects somehow crept into being.
But the context has to be remembered. Dire times tend to put businesspeople on the express bus to crazy town. A harebrainer floated during the spitballing stage can sound like a flash of brilliance when the alternatives are layoffs and more filleting by investors. So we’ve included a few historic misfires for gauging how the industry is pushing the margins today.
Replacing menu boards with handheld menus
Sorry, Zoes, but we didn’t see the sense in scrapping your menu boards at selected units and letting patrons pick up a printed menu instead. The notion was to take the pressure off customers waiting in line—no longer would they feel rushed to read the menu board and place their orders, “having the consumer from behind kind of push them,” as CEO Kevin Miles put it.
Instead (or so he bets) patrons could grab a printed menu like the ones used in casual dining and leisurely peruse it before getting in line.
Executives said the handheld menu was well received, but we haven’t noticed any widespread rollout yet.
The most recent nominee for inclusion: Denny’s sausage character, whose official name is Sausage. He sports eyes, a jaunty fedora, four limbs and a set of teeth, but viewers on the internet took one look at Sausage and decided, “Hey, that’s a turd!”
An inviolate rule of marketing: You don’t want an emblem of your brand to look like excrement. And in the age of social media, that was the perception spread online.
Denny’s, to its credit, responded with humor, though an unbending defense of the choice. It posted a picture on Twitter of a despondent Sausage sitting on the curb with his friend and fellow Denny’s mascot, Bacon, a slice of pork belly with arms. “I’m just a sausage … I can’t help the way I look,” laments the character.
Starbucks’ e-commerce retreat
The coffee king’s decision to unplug its thriving e-commerce business— a move based on expectations that online holiday shoppers will buy their beans and gift mugs in Starbucks units instead—could end up on next year’s bad-idea list. But there’s no ambiguity about an earlier foray into internet retailing by the tech innovator.
Today, Starbucks is universally recognized as a lifestyle brand. We forget that it mistakenly tried in the 1990s to forge that impression by putting the Starbucks name on household products and selling them online. Hardcore fans could purchase a Starbucks-brand lamp, among other furnishings.
The gambit bombed, as did Starbucks’ attempt for several years to plant itself squarely in the music retailing business by opening CD stores. It eventually retreated from that venture, too, focusing instead on selling discs in its coffee cafes.