Think 1 AM hunger pangs? Think of a cold winter evenings? Think of lazy summer afternoons? Think of exam all-nighters? Think of college canteens? What was the first thing that flashed across your mind? If it was not that familiar yellow packet of Maggi noodles, there is certainly much you have missed out in life.
Maggi has not only been a packet of noodles, it has been a way of life for us most Indians. With an image that has been carefully crafted over the last 30 years, it is a more frequent substance on the kitchen shelves that perhaps any other packaged food. Having been a savior for adolescents when they have ventured away from the comfort of their homes and home-cooked food, it has enjoyed a mother’s trust, a bachelor’s faith, a child’s crave and the nation’s affection. Just like Xerox, Zipper, Band-Aid, etc., it is so ubiquitous in its category that it has become a generic name for noodles, and that perhaps speaks a lot for itself. All this combined with a seventy plus percent market share makes brand Maggi all a really spectacular feat. But alas, all it took lose it all was a “2-minute” news bulletin.
Early this year, Maggi tested negative for harmful MSG and lead content in a government lab in Lucknow. This news spread like a wildfire through a forest and within hours Maggi was a trending topic. The consumers can be really unforgiving, and in this age of digital media, the damage is swift and brutal. Minutes after a leading news channel had covered the story, social media was ripe with negative sentiments and consumer ire. Other regulatory bodies took cue, and slowly the chips fell.
What we must all realize is that this is not something unprecedented in the history of brands. It is but human to err, and even big brands like Cadbury’s and Toyota have made their fair share of blunders. But what has helped these brands fight their way back into the hearts of customers? Let us look at some salient revival strategies one by one:
Honesty & Trust: First things first; in the wake of an already tarnished reputation, denial could be deadly. As the oft quoted Lincoln saying ends – “you can’t fool all of the people, all the time”, Maggi should realize that they cannot escape from owning up to the situation by terming something as glaringly egregious as this “a PR disaster”. Most long-term brand relationships are built on trust and faith, and Maggi should acknowledge and take responsibility for what has happened. In the absence of this, Maggi can find itself pitted in an already losing battle of words against social media, science and angry customers. The first message that should go out to the customers now should be, “yes I made a mistake and I am willing to correct it!” Only then will the customers be willing to lend an ear henceforth, and any corrective action that they take will have credibility.
Communication/Transparency: As far as communication has been concerned, saying Nestle has been terrible would be a gross understatement at the very least. The global Nestle site doesn’t even acknowledge the controversy in India. On its Delhi ban, the company has this to say, “”On 3 June 2015 the Delhi authorities made a press announcement that a 15 day ban would be imposed on MAGGI Noodles and that Nestlé would be served with a notice to recall the product from retail outlets in the state. We are yet to receive an official notification of this from the authorities.” When the absolute and urgent need of the hour is that for Nestle to reach out to its customers, the company has been increasingly withdrawing into a cocoon. This has not only prevented damage control, but added flames to the already growing fire against the brand. Nestle needs to tell people that it is trying to solve matters. An increase in marketing budget, dedicated social media pages, frequent Q&A sessions, industry interviews and more press conferences are the need of the hour. Even if we assume that Nestle is working to set things right, such efforts would have little effect if they are not promptly conveyed to the customers. Nestle can’t just sit back and watch their Rome burn: their leadership needs to come out in the open and speak up.
A Fresh Start: Similar to what the cola companies did with Amir Khan and Amitabh Bachchan after the pesticide controversy, Nestle needs to associate a fresh face to its product line during its resurgence from this debacle. Preferably, it needs to be someone with a clean image and who enjoys nationwide trust. An interesting coterie of brand ambassadors could be Sachin Tendulkar, Kapil Sharma, Amir Khan and Vidya Balan among others. These are people whom the nation likes, trusts and would be willing to listen to. Associating new faces with the brand would also signal a new start, and this would implicitly communicate that the brand is now a changed one.
Commitment: As the famous Carl Jung said, “you are what you do and not what you say you’ll do,” words without much action have little long-term impact. An interesting lesson can be taken from Cadbury, which invested in expensive machinery and revamped their entire product packaging after being caught up in the worms’ controversy. Similarly, Nestle can setup additional transparent systems in place to ensure that all its future products are 100 percent safe. An interesting initiative could be along the lines of a new web-domain “mysafenestle.com”, where they can get an independent testing body to continuously test their products round the year and publish this information publicly. Additionally, they can update their product packaging and labeling to change the way they convey how they ensure the safety of their products. This will send out a message to the consumers that Nestle has learnt its lessons and is ready to take on the safety concerns very seriously.
Hence, succinctly put, Nestle’s course of action should be to first acknowledge there were shortcomings, communicate that it is working to overcome them and support its words with tangible efforts such as a new brand campaign, updated product packaging and involvement of neutral testing agencies to ensure the future safety of their products, among others. Not only Nestle, even the consumers want their beloved Maggi back. Thirty years of serving their customers dutifully has reaped some serious brand loyalty, and we will be willing to trust them again if they reach out to us. After all, what one of India’s leading snack brand says,”Tedha hai, par mera hai”, perfectly echoes our sentiments towards Maggi.
Sumit Bhagat is PGP student (2015 – 17) in IIM Ahmedabad