I think one of the worst things a company can do is to hurt a product category. This happens when a company makes repeated public failures, releases a technology too soon, or attacks a rivals product in such a way that it brings disrepute on everybody’s offering.
The most recent example of repeated screw ups has to be the ocean cruise liner business. Here is looking at you Carnival. Nothing screams epic disaster better having a boat like the Costa Concordia getting its own Wikipedia entry and its Captain bereted by the Italian Coastguard as a coward on Youtube. Then because one collossal headline grabber wasn’t enough they followed up a year later with the Triumph where passengers were left stranded in the Gulf of Mexico wallowing in their own filth. Here is a nice story on that.
If you are a competitor to Carnival you would be tearing your hair out because you are going to pay a price in terms of reduced bookings. After all as a marketer you cannot come out with a slogan like, “We are safer than those bozos”. It just doesn’t work. That’s why the tobacco companies never competed in terms of product safety. It implies that the product is dangerous in the first place.
Releasing a product too soon can also damage a category. Electric cars have had some bad press thanks to Fisker’s exploding vehicles. This makes the world question the safety of electric cars. Tesla is shrugging it off for the moment, but I have to think that seeing videos like this one cast doubt on the technology.
Attacking rivals or partners to extricate yourself from a mess makes everybody look bad. My favourite example of this is the Bridgestone versus Ford SUV fights. These two companies could have worked together, shared the expense and resolved the problem. Instead they decided to engage in a public finger pointing match, tarneshed both of their brands and wrecked a long term business partnership. Well played. Here is a brief summary of that stupidity.
The bottom line is that companies must work hard to avoid trashing an entire line of products, because recovering from these misdeeds can take a long time and slow growth in the whole industry. All of the examples I used either caused deaths or led to the risk of great bodily harm. The public will rightly wait a long time to revisit the idea of purchasing a product with this stigma.