From pen-based pandemonium to viral fried chicken, these debuts had serious impact.
Ten super-successful product launches, from Sony’s Walkman to Snap’s Spectacles.
By David Lidsky Illustration by Peter Oumanski
1 Reynolds Rocket October 1945
The Reynolds International Pen Company introduced the first commercial ballpoint pen with much fanfare at New York’s Gimbels department store, which promoted it as “miraculous.”
What happened: Big lines and a “no-holds-barred fracas,” according to one report at the time. An early example of masterful buzz-building.
2 Edsel September 1957
When Ford debuted this mid-priced car line, it tapped into the era’s most advanced marketing muscle, amping up expectations with teaser ads and a TV special called The Edsel Show. What happened: Edsels turned out to basically be souped-up Mercuries, and disappointed consumers dismissed the overhyped brand.
3 Kodak Instamatic March 1963
The product marketed itself; all Kodak had to do was tell customers, “Now, in the time it takes to read this sentence aloud, you can load the new Kodak Instamatic Camera.” What happened: Kodak sold more than 50 million Instamatics by 1970 and created a generation of camera enthusiasts.
4 Sony Walkman July 1979
Sony showed off its personal cassette player with a goofy campaign in the streets of Tokyo, which involved demonstrating things that people could do while listening to a Walkman (such as riding a tandem bicycle) as the press watched. What happened: Onlookers were baffled, but music fans bought more than 200 million units.
5 Apple Macintosh January 1984
A bow-tie-clad Steve Jobs introduced his bold Macintosh computer—as well as his soon-to-be-famous penchant for dramatic demo events—at a raucous shareholder conference. What happened: Mac didn’t topple IBM, but Jobs’s bravura presentation style paid off when he debuted the imac, ipod, iphone, and ipad.
6 Microsoft Windows 95 August 1995
After months of buildup, Microsoft gathered thousands of journalists and employees—along with luminaries like Jay Leno—to reveal its operating system. What happened: People lined up to buy it, making Windows 95 one of the first computing products to have a true pop-culture moment.
7 Viagra April 1998
Pfizer spent a reported $100 million to stoke demand for its breakthrough erectile dysfunction remedy, tapping Cline Davis & Mann to make crafty ads that targeted both men and women. What happened: Frisky baby boomers snapped up $1 billion worth of the blockbuster drug in its first year.
8 Livestrong wristband May 2004
The Lance Armstrong Foundation’s youth cancer awareness initiative quietly enlisted celebrities such as Tom Hanks and Serena Williams to wear its yellow silicone bracelet, inspiring curiosity and letting people discover it for themselves. What happened: The foundation has raised $100 million worldwide from the Livestrong campaign.
9 KFC Double Down sandwich April 2010
Gluttons in Omaha and Providence helped KFC’S test of a bacon-and-cheese sandwich—with pieces of boneless fried chicken replacing the bread!—go viral. KFC was coy about a national rollout and even teased, “It’s Real!” on April Fools’ Day. What happened: It did finally hit stores nationwide, but drove more outrage than sales.
10 Snap Spectacles November 2016
Snapchatters couldn’t buy these camera glasses in stores; they were initially only available via pop-up vending machines. Scarcity and desirability created an organic sensation. What happened: By eschewing the hoopla of the failed Google Glass launch, Snap inspired excitement rather than skepticism.