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Can Your Portfolio Rebound From an Epic Fail?

By Molly McCluskey - Updated Apr 6, 2017 at 6:27PM

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Bad products can happen to good companies. Can you recover?

Alas, poor Qwikster. We hardly knew ye. But the Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX) split and shuffle, as I've come to think of it, is no more. The DVD-only segment will remain under the red envelope, and we can all get on with our lives.

But will Netflix ever regain its dignity? To answer that question, we need to look at other companies that launched ill-conceived products and lived to tell the tale.

Red, white, and you
Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO) launched New Coke in April 1985, and quit production of the original formula the same week. It was a disaster, and resulted in what is affectionately called on the company website "a firestorm of consumer protest."

The day the company introduced New Coke, the stock was trading at $70. On July 11, when the original formula was reintroduced as Coca-Cola Classic, the company's share price opened at $72.50, and had a high of $74.87. There were minor fluctuations in the 70-plus days of the "firestorm," but the stock never dipped below $66.

The stock has split four times since the disaster, including a 3-for-1 split in 1986. The company has paid a consistent quarterly dividend since 1962.

The clear alternative
While PepsiCo's (NYSE: PEP) Crystal Pepsi lasted a bit longer than New Coke, it, too, had a disastrously short run. After tests in limited U.S. markets in 1992, the company launched the product nationwide in 1993, advertising it as a healthier, caffeine-free cola. Pepsi pulled out all the stops with marketing, including a Superbowl ad featuring Van Halen's "Right Now," which was extremely popular at the time.

Despite the shot of hipness, Crystal Pepsi only lasted until 1994. A similar product, called "Pepsi Clear" was introduced in a limited edition in Mexico in 2005.

During the time Crystal Pepsi was on the market, the stock price averaged around the mid-30s per share, with no major fluctuations. The flop didn't hurt the company's dividends, and the stock split in 1996, which is also the most recent split.

Think you can't put a price on nostalgia? Think again. Unopened bottles of Pepsi Clear are now selling on eBay.

Both Coke and Pepsi have outperformed the NYSE composite (INDEX: ^NYA) over the past 10 years.

Apple's ahead of its time. Again. 
Back in the days when people were still afraid of computers (circa early 1980s), Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) developed the first business computers with a graphical user interface and a mouse. Byte Magazine hailed the Lisa as a "new kind of machine," and wrote a 15-page article detailing how to use the complex system.

But the Lisa never took off. A whopping $9,995 price tag and a processor that couldn't keep up with an advanced operating system drove potential customers to IBM's PC. Apple launched a streamlined Lisa 2 one year later, with a slashed price tag, and offered to upgrade Lisa 1 customers. By 1986, Apple discontinued the Lisa and replaced it with a little thing called the Macintosh. It wouldn't be the last of Apple's failures, but over the past 10 years, Apple has outperformed the Nasdaq (INDEX: ^IXIC).

Seeing beyond the Vista
Microsoft
(Nasdaq: MSFT) launched Vista as a much-anticipated follow-up to its XP operating system. The launch occurred on Jan. 30, 2007. Three weeks earlier, Steve Jobs had introduced the first iPhone. A new operating system already seemed way less cool in comparison, but when Vista failed to perform as promised, the chasm widened.

The company announced poor earnings after the launch. The New York Times graciously suggested the flagging economy might be at fault while simultaneously stating that, were there a problem with the system, Microsoft executives probably wouldn't admit it.

But the economy was not entirely to blame. Critics were quick to point out an array of problems with Vista, including its lack of compatibility with other applications, an especially tricky problem for corporate IT departments rolling out the software companywide. A class action lawsuit alleged Microsoft had "enriched itself" by promoting Vista-compatible PCs, when the computers could only run a stripped down version of Vista.

Two years after the launch, XP still outsold Vista. Less than a year later, Microsoft introduced Windows 7. Although the company has lost some of the luster it once commanded, it is still the dominant producer of operating systems worldwide, and the release of Vista has been swept under the rug as a bad memory as Microsoft continues to move forward.

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick
What did all these product failures have in common? They were part of large companies whose successes and failures didn't ride on a single product. Rather than selling a consumer good, Netflix provides two services. It mails customers a DVD, or allows them to stream videos online. Just like a portfolio with only one or two stocks is more vulnerable to fluctuations than a diversified one, all of Netflix's success is dependent on the steadiness and consistency of its two services. Companies with multiple product lines can take risks because if they fail, they have a better chance of recovering.

There are some exceptions to this rule, of course, and one of them is Wal-Mart. Our analysts have taken a hard look at which companies will put this giant out of business and created a special report, "The Death of Wal-Mart: The Real Cash Kings Changing the Face of Retail." Download a copy today on us -- it's free for Fools!

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis – even one of our own – helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.

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Stocks Mentioned

Microsoft Corporation Stock Quote
Microsoft Corporation
MSFT
$330.59 (-1.79%) $-6.04
The Coca-Cola Company Stock Quote
The Coca-Cola Company
KO
$52.45 (-3.90%) $-2.13
Netflix, Inc. Stock Quote
Netflix, Inc.
NFLX
$641.90 (-3.31%) $-21.94
Apple Inc. Stock Quote
Apple Inc.
AAPL
$165.30 (3.16%) $5.06
NASDAQ Composite Index (Price Return) Stock Quote
NASDAQ Composite Index (Price Return)
^IXIC
$15,782.83 (0.00%) $0.00

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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