September 28, 1998 Volume 21, No. 3

Learning from Product Successes, Failures

by Dave Maley

What makes pudding in a tube and WOW fat-free potato chips a winner, while Premiere smokeless cigarettes and aerosol toothpaste are likely destined for the scrap heap of failed consumer products? Business students at Ithaca College are now able to take advantage of a marketing veteran’s expertise and an archive of over 65,000 products to help learn the answers to those questions. Thanks to an affiliation between the College’s School of Business and the New Products Showcase and Learning Center, located in downtown Ithaca, students have access to the center’s collection and, more importantly, to the extensive experience of its founder and president, Robert McMath.

"There are thousands of examples of flawed thinking in the Learning Center, and students will have a chance to study them firsthand," says McMath. "It is an invaluable resource for those seeking to enter the world of marketing and product development at virtually any level, whether it be as part of a large corporation or as an entrepreneur with their own business. There is no place else in the world where such an experience is available."

The coauthor of What Were They Thinking? Marketing Lessons I’ve Learned From Over 80,000 New-Product Innovations and Idiocies, McMath is widely regarded as an authority on historical consumer product introductions and today’s product trends. He has appeared with some of his collection on the Today and Tonight shows, the Late Show with David Letterman, and Good Morning America, among other television programs. As a member of the School of Business faculty, McMath will teach a course on new product development and will assist with other marketing courses. The center will be the home of the School of Business Consumer Product Laboratory, with space for teaching and research, and student interns will gain valuable experience working with the center’s corporate clients.

"The affiliation provides a wonderful opportunity for Ithaca College business students to explore and test ideas learned in the classroom," says School of Business dean Robert Ullrich.

In the last year alone, McMath notes, approximately 25,000 new products were introduced in the United States. Yet up to 94 percent of those products are expected to fail in the marketplace. The New Products Showcase and Learning Center ( and its aisles crammed with consumer products of all kinds—the aggregate cost to the companies that introduced products in McMath’s collection is estimated to have been $12 billion—gives companies an opportunity to learn from the successes and failures of others.

McMath, who holds a B.S. degree in marketing/business administration from Johns Hopkins University, earned a respected reputation in the marketing industry in the 1970s when he founded a new-product intelligence operation, which he later sold to a division of Ogilvy & Mather Advertising. He has served as new products editor for Brand Week and Brand Marketing magazines and continues to contribute articles to business publications both in the United States and internationally. McMath attends numerous trade shows every year and speaks frequently to marketing, quality control, advertising, and sales executives as well as to meetings of the American Marketing Association, of which he is a member.