Apple's product range during the tail end of the 1980s and early 1990s had degenerated from the insane greatness of the classic Apple Macintosh to the extraordinarily bland Performa range; although the Powerbooks sold well, and the Power Macs and Quadras got good reviews, none of the company's products were particularly exciting. Strapped for cash, Apple even took to licensing clones of the Mac hardware, which raised money in the short term whilst eating into long-term Macintosh sales. The company was in pretty bad shape before Steve Jobs came back in 1997 and the original iMac was released in 1998. And it took them a few more years after that to finally get rid of the mess that the classic Mac OS had become.
In The Eighties, Coca-Cola decided to change its secret formula that most of the world had been drinking for the better part of a century. Ironically, the "New Coke" as the media dubbed it, tasted more like Coke's chief rival, Pepsi (part of the whole point, actually). Die-hard Coca-Cola drinkers said "They Changed It, Now It Sucks" and Pepsi drinkers kept on drinking Pepsi. This new formula actually made Pepsi the number-one selling soft drink for a while, partly because most of its advertising during the period was "hate the New Coke? Drink Pepsi!" Pepsi actually saw the New Coke blunder as such a major win, they gave all their employees a day off in celebration. New Coke was actually rebranded (quietly) as "Coke II" but quietly faded to its death in the late 1990s and finally perished in the early 2000s. This debacle became a running joke for years. Even in Futurama, the "Slurm" episode poked fun at it.
Of course, if they ''knew'' this would happen and that their sales would skyrocket once they re-released the formula in the form of Coca-Cola Classic, this would be one of the most successful plansof all time. Considering all the other dumb ideas corporate executives have, it wouldn't be the one bit surprising if it were true; eventually a dumb idea has to pay off, right?
When questioned about that very possibility, an executive cryptically replied 'We're not that smart and we're not that stupid.'
It's not cryptic. Coke based its decision on one of the most heavily researched marketing investigations they could imagine, and everything came back saying that people preferred New Coke. As it happens, it became an object lesson that market research can't always get it right no matter how certain it seems. Coke did what pretty much everybody would have done in its place. Then, when they realized their mistake, did an about-face and restored the product. In fact, in many ways, it's the pinnacle of a good management team: smart enough to make the rational choice based on evidence and smart enough to change that when the evidence changes. Plus it gave them the opportunity to quietly move from higher-priced sugar to cheaper high-fructose corn syrup; any complaints about the change were muffled under the cheers for the return to the (otherwise) classic formula.
The truly bizarre thing about the whole episode is that just a few weeks before they rolled out New Coke, they ran a promo featuring Bill Cosby touting Coke as "more refreshing" because it was "less sweet" than certain other cola beverages. It seems that Coca Cola's management was somewhat schizo...
Dave Barry lampooned this in one of his books with a "test your business IQ" question that went something like "You are the world's largest manufacturer of soft drinks. You are using a tested and proven formula that has remained the same for nearly a century. Your product's name is virtually synonymous with 'soft drink' in many areas. You should:" Of the choices, one of them was "Immediately change your formula" (another, aimed at a more or less contemporaneous Pepsi PR disaster, was something like "Set a celebrity on fire").
New Coke's failure may have been averted had Coca-Cola made the decision to keep Coke-Classic and New Coke on the market at the same time, thus avoiding the backlash of Classic Coke drinkers and keeping fans of New Coke happy. They didn't go this direction initially due to serious distribution concerns and when they finally did (under the Coke II name), there was hardly any real marketing push for the drink which contributed to it's slow death as described above.
In the early 1990s, Las Vegas was facing stiff competition from not only Atlantic City drawing away gamblers on the East Coast (at its height, AC had over twice as many tourists as Vegas), but the looming threat of Indian casinos, legalized in 1988note Technically, Indian casinos had been legal since 1976, with the case of Bryan v. Itasca County serving as the precedent for the first attempts at opening casinos in The Eighties, but the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 ended the legal grey area that it existed in, drawing away gamblers from Middle America as well. As a survival mechanism, Las Vegas began its now-infamous attempt to expand its appeal to tourists by rebranding the city as a destination for family vacations. Every Strip hotel built over 1990-93 had at least one theme park-esque attraction — the new MGM Grand had an actual theme park — and theme.
This backfired badly. Adult tourists who preferred to gamble and party without dodging kids were upset, hotel-casino staffs trained to operate adult-oriented resorts couldn't handle the unique needs of families, cases of parents rushing off to the gaming tables and leaving their kids to fend for themselves made the news — one abandoned child ended up kidnapped and murdered — and the theme park turned out to be a bomb. (To quoteBrian Griffin: "The town of Vegas has got a different face/because it's a family place/with lots to do./While in The Fifties a man could mingle with scores/of all the seediest whores,/well now his children can too!") This age ended with the opening of the Bellagio in 1998, which was explicitly geared towards a very classy and very adult clientele with its fine art gallery, conservatory, resident Cirque du Soleil show, and high-stakes poker tables. While the hotels that opened to serve families are still around, and Vegas still markets itself as being about more than just gambling, said hotels have been progressively dethemed and the city's entertainment mix now mostly excludes families.
Paul Pressler’s run as president of Disneyland from 1996 to 2000 is a textbook example of someone excelling in one field but completely failing in another. After a very successful stint as the head of The Disney Store (which itself underwent a Dork Age after he left, thanks in part to focusing on films like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Hercules that weren't exactly merchandising-friendly), Pressler was promoted to the top position of Disneyland, which at the time was undergoing a radical change. The park was slowly losing new customers, and an attempt to add a second Disney park to the area had failed miserably. He was charged with saving money and enticing new people to the park — which he did by seriously cutting attraction maintenance and operating hours, and by homogenizing merchandise within the park down to only a few major items like T-shirts and plush, basically turning the park into a glorified Disney Store. He then turned to saving even more money by completely shutting down smaller, low-capacity attractions like the Motor Boat Cruise, and helping “trim” the budget to a massive redo of the Tomorrowland area.
For his “success” at Disneyland he was promoted to the head of the entire theme parks division in 2000, where he oversaw development of the long awaited second theme park in the Disneyland area, Disney’s California Adventure. The park opened to great fanfare in 2001… and very quickly became a spectacular flop. The park itself was accused of being cheap and uninteresting, with more of an emphasis on shops and dining over shows and attractions. After two years of trying and failing to fix California Adventure, Pressler resigned in 2003 to become the head of The Gap, and thankfully taking Disneyland’s Dork Age with him.
Jack in the Box (the restaurant) had one between 1980 and 1994. Read more about it on Wikipedia. In short, what happened was originally Jack in the Box had a typical West Coast hamburger stand feel to it: you talked into the clown's mouth to order, and advertising featured an early version of Jack as well as several other characters. But in 1980, the chain ran a series of commercials where Jack was destroyed. New marketing was toward the "affluent yuppies". The menu expanded at an alarming rate of two new items a year. They even tried to rename the restaurant to "Monterey Jack's". After the e. Coli disaster of the early 1990s, the company managed to get back in place and relaunch Jack in 1994. It's been successful since.
The Ford Mustang II, 1974-78. Basically a Pinto with a fancier body, no V8 option and enough mid-70s chrome, vinyl and fake wood for a much larger car. Ford was returning the car to its roots as basically an economy car with a big engine after the previous car had gotten larger and become decent road racing platform. Sales for the Mustang II were actually much better than the late 60s/early 70s Mustangs, but it alienated enthusiasts. Even after it got a V8, never before or since have so many car guys been so disappointed to see their favorite sports car get lighter and more nimble...
Meanwhile, its rival, the Chevrolet Camaro/Pontiac Firebird, while also feeling the effects of the new standards at the time, did not have its performance suffer as much as the Mustang did and it did not have a garish bodywork compared to other cars during the era, even though it was nearly killed in 1972 due to the UAW strike concerning about the new regulations. Not only that, but the Camaro (and to a lesser extent, its cousin Firebird), adding insult to injury, outsold its rival by 1977, because it was the only car worth getting for sports car/post-muscle car enthusiasts. To this day, the Camaro is probably the only pony car/muscle car to not have its legacy stained by WTH engineering/designing departments even during The Seventies. The only low point in its career was the Iron Duke design of The Eighties, but that was a separate model and did rather little to hurt the Camaro's popularity.
The same things which drove the American car into the ground in The Seventies raised the flag of the American SUV in the same timeframe. Jeep◊ Wagoneer◊ was anything but dork back then.
British cars were far worse leading to most brands falling under ownership of British Leyland which eventually collapsed taking the entire industry with it. Top Gear couldn't even find a bright spot during the era.
British Leyland was problematic for many reasons. Having most of the major British car companies under one organisation was a good idea in theory. The problem? None of them knew how to work together! Having so many companies under one roof didn't change the fact that many were competing against each other in the market, this resulted in cars being a Suspiciously Similar Substitute of other cars, development of new models was slow, and many models were produced cheaply and quickly. The Morris Marina is widely considered one of the worst cars ever produced by the company, despite the amount of cars sold. Add trade union disputes, oil crisis and three-day working weeks and you had the poster child for everything wrong with the industrial problems in Britain in the 70's, the company went bust in 1975. Nowadays, all the major British car manufacturers are owned by foreign organizations, while Rover sadly disappeared in 2005.
Food in general took a nose-dive in quality during the early Cold War, with the American diet becoming a giant buffet of artificial chemical garbage loaded with dangerous amounts of sugar and fat with trace amounts of real nutrients. Food preservation technologies developed during WWII, combined with perceived need to stockpile food heavy with preservatives for cold war era fallout shelters, and a general public ignorance about the potential health risks of chemical additives, spawned a wave of food production emphasizing price and speed over quality. Unsurprisingly, heart attack and cancer rates skyrocketed during The Fifties and The Sixties, thanks in no small part to the garbage people where putting in their bodies. In America this nearly destroyed drip coffee's reputation and spurred the organic and slow food movements as a rejection of the trend. Entire websites like Lileks Gallery of Regrettable Food show some of the awful recipes to come out of this era.
Math education in the U.S. (and, to a lesser extent, Europe and Japan) went through a Dork Age in the 1960s with the "New Math" format. It involved teaching students advanced topics like boolean algebra, bases other than 10, abstract algebra, and set theory from an early age instead of emphasizing memorization, word problems, and, well, actual numbers. The idea was to create a generation of engineers, scientists, and mathematical thinkers capable of competing with the USSR, but the results were disastrous. Most children were unable to grasp the concepts because they'd never learned basic arithmetic like the multiplication tablenote As a frustrated Sally from Peanutsput it, "sets, one to one matching, equivalent sets, non-equivalent sets, sets of one, sets of two, renaming two, subsets, joining sets, number sentences, placeholders... all I want to know is, how much is two and two?", most teachers didn't fully understand what it was they were teaching, the subjects taught weren't even that useful for their intended engineering/physical science purpose, and an entire generation thought of math as even less useful and relevant than children usually do. Today, New Math is remembered as an utter catastrophe of misguided education reform gone wrong.
Many believe this is happening with newspapers. It doesn't help that many of them go through a version of the process described by Dave Barry above - they change their format to attract younger readers. The people who already read the papers don't like the new version, and the people the papers are trying to attract don't notice because they don't read papers.
Many people during their teenage years experiment radically with different lifestyle choices, only to feel regret for them later in life.
Middle School tends to be a Dork Age of people's educations. Social life becomes a cliquish popularity contest, and many once-beloved hobbies become little-kid-ish and nerdy, but the populace hasn't really splintered into clubs yet to mitigate this. You're also dealing with acne, BO, squeaky and overly deep voices (for boys), and sometimes even shaving, most of which fade away later on. The schooling itself is nothing great, either, typically mired in endless essays and memorization (and often algebra for the first time - not the most fondly remembered of subjects).
Japanese Culture is sadly stated to be under a Dork Age over in some foreign shores due to shifts in audience towards the Lighter and Softer "Moe" genre and making a minimal effort to appeal to casual and foreign crowds. Coupled with South Korea dominating the music industry and even bringing their own talent to be working with famous American musicians. Interestingly enough, how bad this Dork Age is depends considerably on which part of the world you're on, with Japanese Culture still retaining warm receptions in Asia and Australia at least.
Microsoft's Windows OS seems to go in cycles.
Windows98: It was great! It fixed the really rough parts of Windows95 and made connecting to the Internet so easy!
WindowsME: It sucked! It tried to have the reliability of WindowsNT and the user-friendliness of Windows98, and promptly falls flat in both area.
WindowsXP: It is/was great! Finally we have the reliability of NT and the user-friendliness of '98!
Windows Vista: It sucked! The eye candy was not worth the resource hogging and the paradigm changes broke all the old programs! note So much so that many people decided to say "Shove it" and downgrade back to XP!
Windows 7: It is great! Where Windows Vista failed, Seven delivers!
Windows 8: It sucks! Microsoft tries to shove us the smartphone approach and it doesn't mesh at all with the established desktop practice! I want my Start menu back!
Microsoft's "Internet Explorer" browser, from version 6 to (arguably ) version 9. IE 6 was the browser with the biggest market share in history for years, mostly because it was the standard for many business users who had software developed that worked great with it but it simply wasn't easily ported to something newer. As a result, people kept using IE 6, despite being outdated and insecure. These requirements put 7 and 8 incredibly behind Chrome and Firefox. 9 is a return to form, but the bad reputation Internet Explorer earned is still there.
Early on in the new millennium, the otherwise top-of-the-game Intel fell behind an increasingly competitive AMD with the Netburst-based Pentium 4. Promising to eventually break the 10GHz barrier, it instead ran inefficiently and incredibly hot. The company was finally out of the woods mid-decade with the release of the Core 2, a more modernized take on the P6 architecture, along with a steady yearly update schedule allowing for step-by-step refinements, and haven't looked back since.
Meanwhile AMD has stumbled into this a bit with the Bulldozer architecture that is emphasizing all the parts that made the Pentium 4 fail.
NVIDIA fell into this with the GeForce FX GPU, which used a substandard implementation of DirectX that allowed then competitor ATi (now AMD) to wipe the floor with its GPU. NVIDIA came back the next generation and stumbled a few more times but not nearly as badly as this.
The BlackBerry line of smartphones had one around the beginning of The New Tens, due to its obsolescence in the face of the iPhone and Android-based phones, and slowness in developing new models. The latest models based on BlackBerry 10 have been well-received, and the company has returned to profitability.
All the sad tales above doesn't compare to Nokia's. Once it was a pioneer of mobile phones and you could hardly find anything but Nokia phones in the market. However, it failed to keep up with the times, which included: not making serious competitor to BlackBerry Messenger service, not really getting into digital music business unlike Apple, and failed to gain any meaningful foothold in the tablet market. That last one put the last nail to Nokia's mobile business coffin: they attempted a cooperation with Microsoft, but Microsoft's own Windows RT platform is devoid of popular apps (no Firefox!) and thus no one want to use their product.
Face it, there's always someone who thinks that the current trends are part of one.