Oh, to be a fly on the wall at Ford Motor Company in the mid-to-late 1950s. It was there and then that one of the greatest—if not the greatest—consumer product disasters in history was being birthed.
It had a name: the Edsel, chosen to honor company founder Henry Ford’s son, Edsel Ford. It had a look: front-end styling not even a mother could love, with a grille likened to a toilet seat. It had a cost: in dollars, a loss of $350 million (the equivalent of just under $3 billion today); in brand recognition, as a 2014 Time article noted, forever the answer to crossword puzzle clues like “ill-fated auto,” “Detroit flop” and “bomb with wheels.”
It didn’t take long for Ford to flush the Edsel from its system, canning the project and ceasing all production in November 1959, and in the half-century since, many have attempted to explain how such a perfect storm of failure came to be. In the lead-up to the Edsel’s public unveiling, Ford spoke ad nauseam about how “right” the car was, citing extensive market research and product development informing the vehicle’s design. The fruits of that labor came in a number of ideas which were described as innovative at the time, and they were highlighted in the brochure for the 1958 Edsel, underneath a headline that read “Never Before So Much That’s New”:
- A “control center instrument panel” (instruments, controls and warning lights organized in horizontal rows, designed to mimic aircrafts)
- “Visual warning lights” (indicator lights for things like oil pressure and low fuel)
- A “rear deck opener” (opening the trunk from the driver’s seat)
- A “speed warning light speedometer” (a speedometer which lit up red when a set speed was exceeded)
- A “panel-mounted compass” (you know, a compass)
Perhaps a sign of how not-in-touch-with-consumers Ford’s copious research was, that toilet bowl grille was also listed among the alleged innovations, with the heading “Mark of Elegance.”
But even if we cede that this truncated list contains innovative ideas, the overall execution left much to be desired: The Edsel lineup was priced to compete directly with two other Ford brands, causing customer confusion and sticker shock when they cross-shopped the car. Its reliability was immediately called into question (“This car has been in the repair shop almost every other day,” an owner was quoted as saying in the March 1958 issue of Popular Mechanic). By the time it came to market, consumer preference had shifted to fuel-efficient and economy-class cars. Nobody knew what the heck an “Edsel” even was. And then there was that grille…
The Ford Edsel was, for all intents and purposes, innovation inaction.
The 2017 FLEXO Magazine Cover Project was a decidedly un-Edsel affair; innovation in action. It featured the three winners of the 2017 FTA Technical Innovation Award—Esko‘s XPS Crystal 5080, Flint Group‘s EkoCure ANCORA ink, and Mark Andy‘s Digital Series Hybrid Press—each playing to its strengths by utilizing innovative technologies to aid in producing page one (and page two, and page 115, and page 116) of the October 2017 issue. The technologies contained in the three winners are innovative in their own right, but crucially, also in their implementation (it is a good sign not a single one has a compass).
“We wanted to combine flexo and digital with Mark Andy’s press, XPS plates and Flint’s inks, all into one project, to kind of flex our print muscles,” noted Esko’s Rory Marsoun, also chair of Fall Conference 2017. “So we thought, ‘How can we do this?’”