Don’t have nightmares…

“You need to check the bath water for babies”. This fantastic quote from PR guru Mark Borkowski formed part of a new series that aired for the first time last night. Business Nightmares with Evan Davis – Doomed Designs was shown on BBC Two at 8pm and is available on BBC iPlayer.

This cautionary tale featured nightmare stories from brands over the years and the decisions they made which led to disastrous results. Viewing it as a Comms professional I found it a fascinating insight into many of the legends and found myself shaking my head in amazement throughout. It was made in conjunction with the Open University and included commentary from a range of people including Sir James Dyson and Sir Gerry Robinson.

Soap wars
The programme included the spiraling unpopularity of ‘New Coke’ when they changed the format, Persil’s clothes-eating washing powder, the British Motor Corporation and the Rabbit phone.  It looked at how companies strive to improve their products and make money but what happens when you change an existing product and it goes horribly wrong.

I hadn’t heard the Persil story before. In a nutshell, Unilever launched Persil Power in 1994 and within days the press were printing photos sent out by Procter and Gamble of clothes with holes in as the new formula appeared to be too powerful for general use and harming clothes. As a result, Unilever had to write off £57m worth of stock and analysts estimate it cost them around £250m. However Persil regained its position as market leader just four years later when Persil Tablets were launched.

Bouncing back
What struck me was the tenacity of the companies and how they managed to bounce back after crisis had struck, and the approaches they took to win back public perception and salvage their reputation.  There were some great facts peppered throughout the programme, for example the fact that there are more mobile phones than people in the UK.

If you missed the programme, do check it out on iPlayer. There are a couple more episodes to come – Marketing Mess-Ups on 16 May, BBC Two, 8pm, featuring Sunny Delight, Apple and Gerald Ratner. Having seen Gerald Ratner speak at the Comms Directors’ Forum last year I’m looking forward to seeing how he comes across.

The final programme is Disastrous Decisions on 19 May, BBC Two, 8pm It includes the Royal Bank of Scotland’s takeover of Dutch bank ABN-AMRO and Sir Freddie Laker’s bid to take on the big airlines.

Did you see the programme? What did you think? I’m looking forward to the next two programmes as if the first one is a marker of success, I expect they will be equally interesting


  1. Jon Weedon says:

    It was a fascinating programme Rachel. My biggest takeaway from the show was the bravery of Coca Cola executives who showed bravery and rare humility in reversing a very poor business decision by admitting very publicly they had made a monumental mistake. Humility is a very underrated quality in business, as evidenced yet again by the appalling inflated ego fest on display on tonight’s BBC Apprentice. I had to laugh at the Rabbit story. I was a very enthusiastic Rabbit customer. Easy to knock it with hindsight. Had technology not advanced so quickly against them I still think it was a genius idea. Had no idea I was one of only 12,000 customers!

  2. Rachel says:

    Thanks for your comment Jon, very true on the humility front – can’t have been easy to reverse such a decision after only 79 days! Looking forward to the next couple of episodes, Rachel

  3. Ruth Shurman says:

    Hello Jon Weedon,

    I’m afraid you were actually one of just 9,000 customers! The 12,000 figure in our programme was the number of Rabbit telepoint stations. Glad you enjoyed the programme, and hope you like the next two episodes.

    BBC Series Producer

  4. Rachel says:

    Thank you for your comment Ruth, it’s a great series, Rachel

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