Evan Davis’s top five business nightmares

Ahead of new show Business Nightmares with Evan Davis, he lists some classic examples


1. RBS goes for broke


Having transformed itself from a high-street bank to a multinational financial services giant through a series of takeovers, the Royal Bank of Scotland set its sights on ABN-AMRO.

But when a bidding war ensued with Barclays, RBS found itself overpaying and needing to borrow heavily at the worst possible time. The banking crisis led the company to the brink of collapse, with the biggest loss in corporate history, and resulted in a government bail-out.

2. Coca-Cola’s lost fizz

After Pepsi Cola introduced the Pepsi challenge – a blind taste test showing people preferred Pepsi’s taste – instead of trusting in the power of its brand, Coca-Cola announced it was replacing its bestselling product with a new cola flavour.

Loyal Coke consumers protested against New Coke. After 79 days, Coca-Cola apologised, and returned to the original formula, rebranded as Coca-Cola Classic”.

3. Yardley’s risky rebrand

Probably best known for its traditional floral fragrances for the more mature consumer, Yardley, one of Britain’s oldest companies, was struggling to broaden its appeal when it was bought by New York investment bank, Wasserstein Perella.

Having had huge success transforming the US cosmetics company Maybelline, they applied the same methods. However, the S&M-inspired campaign fronted by supermodel Linda Evangelista not only failed to attract many younger customers,
it also alienated traditional ones, contributing to Yardley going into receivership.

4. Persil’s power trip

Under pressure to develop a new product in the early 90s, Unilever, the makers of Persil, underestimated the impact of their special ingredient dubbed “the accelerator”, resulting in their new soap powder being so powerful it shredded customers’ smalls.

The misjudgement meant £57 million worth of Persil Power stock had to be written off, hundreds of millions of pounds spent on developing and marketing the product went to waste, and it left the reputation of Britain’s bestselling detergent in tatters.

5. Hoover’s free flights fiasco

When Hoover decided to offer free flights abroad with every purchase, its appliances became the wedding gift of choice and the company was overwhelmed by demand it couldn’t meet.


With a full-scale customer revolt and multimillion-pound losses, the European branch of Hoover was eventually sold and its British factories closed.