Today’s Illustration: Commercial Prophets of Doom


A recent academic study on customer buying habits states . . . 

“we show that increased sales of a new product by some customers can be a strong signal of future failure.” [1]

That is, there is a group of customers who repeatedly buy products that are destined to fail!  They are “negative customer indicators.”  They are a “subset of customers. We label these latter customers ‘Harbingers’ of failure. Harbingers are more likely to purchase products that other customers do not buy, and so a purchase by these customers may indicate that the product appeals to a narrower slice of the marketplace. This yields a signal that the product is more likely to fail.” [1]

Instead of identifying potentially popular and profitable products by polling customers’ buying habits, this polling found customers who would consistently buy products that would eventually fail.  Those customers were “harbingers of product failure.”

Companies are typically looking for customers who want their products, and who become what is called “brand-evangelists.” They buy the product and leave positive reviews about it.  They also tell others about it and/or encourage others to also purchase that product.

Nevertheless, research has revealed that there is a customer group that somehow selects products that will never become popular or profitable.  They are able to select products that will fail and/or be discontinued in three years or less because it just doesn’t sell!  The product was doomed from the beginning and yet bought by a set of customers who are gifted at picking them out.  

Here are some of those products.  You may not have heard of them because they failed in three years or less, though bought by this set of consumers. . . . .

  • Crystal Pepsi / Diet Crystal Pepsi
  • Watermelon Oreos
    Nabisco Oreo Limited Edition Watermelon Flavored Golden Cookies (Pack of 4)
  • Frito-Lay Lemonade
  • Coors Rocky Mountain Sparkling Water
  • Colgate Kitchen Entrees
  • Hershey’s Chocolate Scented Pencils
  • Cheetos Lip Balm
  • Jimmy Dean Chocolate Chip Pancake-Wrapped Sausage
  • Clairol’s Touch Of Yogurt Shampoo

In fact, this group of customers are so effective as prophets of failure, that it is reported that the more this subset buys the product, the more likely the product will fail! As they buy this-or-that product, they are prophets of doom!


Key Biblical Thoughts:

  • failure
  • prophets
  • doom
  • evangelism
  • predictions
  • prophecy
  • soul-winning
  • worldliness
  • knowing all these things shall pass away
  • for we know

Sermonic Example: There are several distinct ways to use illustrative material.  

(use whatever you find useful in the above details)

. . . .  We live in a world where all that the world has to offer is sought and bought by those around us.  The fact that they buy into this world is proof of the failure of all that this world offers.  It makes them prophets of a coming doom.  What the world offers is destined to fail!


Other Information & Links:

1.  Link to academic article:;sequence=1Zachary Crockett wrote an interesting article this as well — Harbingers of Failed Consumer Products.

“Using a comprehensive dataset from a large retail chain, we have shown that the early adoption of a new product by different groups of customers provides different signals about the likelihood that a product will succeed. In particular, there exist “Harbingers” of failure: customers whose decision to adopt a new product is a signal that the product will fail. The signal is even stronger if these customers not only adopt the products, but they also come back and purchase again. We present evidence that Harbingers have preferences that are not representative of other customers in the market, and that a pattern of adoption of niche products represents an alternative way of identifying them from data.

The findings have an important managerial implication. They suggest that not all early adopters of new products are the same. For some customers, adoption of a new product is an indication that the product is more likely to succeed. However, for Harbingers, adoption is an indication that the product will fail. When firms use early adoption to make product line decisions or as input to the product improvement process, it is important to distinguish between these different types of customers. “


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