Ithaca College Quarterly, Fall 1998




Food for Thought -- or Indigestion

Robert McMath and his products showcase, now partnered with IC, offer a unique learning environment.

Gerber food for adults, sold in baby food jars.

Dr. Care
aerosol toothpaste.

Garlic cake. Clairol Look of Buttermilk shampoo.

These are a few products that went bust. Can you guess why?

Robert McMath can tell you, and he can tell you a whole lot about other products that didn’t make it with U.S. consumers. He knows a lot about products that did make it, too. He’s an authority on consumer product trends and history, and founder and president of the New Products Showcase and Learning Center in downtown Ithaca (

McMath and the showcase/ learning center are now officially affiliated with Ithaca College. McMath has joined the faculty and is teaching classes in new product development. Students in the School of Business have direct access to the center, a repository of some 65,000 consumer products collected by McMath and his curator wife, Jean McMath, over 30 years. Many of these, like the products above, didn’t make it in the marketplace but cost their makers a bundle of money to develop. McMath will hold some classes in the center, and IC students are eligible for internships.

Marketing major Kimberlee Howe ’99 interned there this summer and continues working there this year, inventorying products and helping create presentations and trade show reports. "I also got to handle a lot of the event planning for the Association of Marketing Educators conference that was held here [in Ithaca] this October," she says. "This is one of those internships that is very informational — I’ll be able to take this experience into a company and it will help me to make decisions about products."

The center has probably the finest collection of new product information in the country, and it is used as a resource by companies from all over the world hoping to avoid mistakes — and learn from successes. McMath is a frequent lecturer at marketing seminars in American universities, and he speaks often to international marketing, quality control, advertising, and sales executives. His topics include product development and reasons for failure, as well as current trends in consumer products and marketing. You may have seen him with an assortment of the newest products on shows such as Today and the Late Show with David Letterman.

McMath holds a B.S. degree in marketing/business administration from Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of the recently published What Were They Thinking?, about lessons to be learned from his collection.

Such as: Grown-ups don’t want to eat stuff that looks like baby food from jars, even if the label says the contents are "beef burgundy" or "Mediterranean vegetables." Who’d want to let the kids loose with aerosol toothpaste? Garlic cake — for dessert? If not then, when? What exactly does buttermilk "look" like?

Important lessons, indeed, especially when some 25,000 new products were introduced in the United States last year — at a cost of an estimated $8 billion — and more than 90 percent of them are doomed to fail.


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