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The Consumer Graveyard: Wonder Sauna Hot Pants


According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, about 90% of new products fail. Join us for a tour of the failed CPG graveyard, with a dozen of the most interesting product failures of the past century — and the most likely reasons they failed.

Our first stop on the tour is a saucy little number known as Wonder Sauna Hot Pants. The customer would slip these on, inflate them, and sweat inside them until they “slenderized” their bottom halves.

The appeal is obvious: instead of going to all the trouble involved in eating right and exercising, the consumer can wear magic pants while cleaning the house or lying around watching TV and get the same effects.

What effects do heated pants actually have? They increase sweating. As long as you don’t replace the ounces of water lost by drinking any liquids, you’ll have lost a few ounces when you take them off. Jockeys and boxers, who have to meet strict temporary weight requirements for their sports, have used these tricks for a long time, working out in wet suits to reduce weight in time for a bout (thought the National Collegiate Athletic Association banned the practice in 1997 following several deaths from dehydration).

Sociologists and psychologists have long told us that it’s hard for human beings to defer gratification. The temporary pleasure of lying around watching TV is more compelling to us than the long-term pleasure of working out regularly for weeks or months and getting stronger eventually. That’s why Americans, on average, watch 34 hours a week of TV and only exercise for about two hours a week. Our desire for fitness is always at war with our desire to be lazy, and laziness offers immediate gratification.

The trick here is marketing that appeals to both desires at the same time. Unfortunately, the hot pants don’t work. Even really good marketing can’t support a bad product long enough to keep it out of the consumer products graveyard.

Wonder Sauna Hot Pants may not be available any more, but there have been numerous variations on this theme over the years, each claiming revolutionary new technology. None survives long.

The takeaway? Your product has to meet a real consumer need. It has to do what it says it will do. Otherwise, it will head for the consumer graveyard. . . and take your investment with it.