After the noodlestorm

Welcome pack :The early reception to Maggi's return has been overwhelming   -  THE HINDU

Will the rousing reception given by consumers to Maggi go beyond the two minutes of glory?

This Diwali, eco-friendly consumers increasingly stayed away from bursting fire-crackers. Those who are health-conscious cut down on consumption of sweets. But there was some indulgence of a different kind.

Maggi, the instant noodles brand from Swiss foods giant Nestle, returned to the stores around Diwali. This was more than five months after the brand had been pulled out of stores following a ban by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India in June.

If one had any doubts about what would be the reception to a brand that had returned after a tryst with the food inspectors, the social media chatter dispelled many myths. NetImpact Solutions, a digital consultancy that specialises in social analytics, tracked around 45,000 conversations related to Maggi Reintroduction in the first two weeks of November (the time when Maggi was re-introduced).

Executives from the consultancy say that the first thing that stood out was the overwhelmingly positive nature of the conversations around the return of Maggi Noodles. Out of total conversations tracked, over 90 per cent were positive. Among the leading talking points was the Maggi promotion on e-tailer Snapdeal that was retailing welcome kits. The e-tailer sold out 60,000 welcome kits of Maggi Noodles in five minutes flat when it first conducted a flash sale of Maggi welcome kits. Rahul Saighal, MD of Netimpact Solutions, says, “Our social analysis of the conversation and sentiments shows that the strong brand equity of Maggi and a strong marketing push has clearly allowed it to weather the recent controversy.”

Other marketing experts are of the opinion that at least for now, Maggi has managed to contain the damage, despite the company taking its own time to react after the local authorities across Indian States started charging Maggi with having excessive lead content and so on. “As for Maggi, the people who used it didn't have a problem. The problem was magnified because of the delay in the company's response. The issue became much larger than it deserved to become,” says Ramanujam Sridhar, Founder & CEO of branding consultancy Brand-comm.

But marketing consultants like Shripad Nadkarni, founder Director at Marketgate Consulting, says that Maggi may not suffer lasting damage as the contamination charges were intangible. Others like Biju Dominic, CEO, FinalMile Consulting, a behavioural architecture firm, agrees. “It all depends on how much consumers are a part of the particular controversy and how much they can relate to the fact seen with quality of the product,” he says.

Nadkarni adds, “When consumers are unable to experience the problem tangibly (like excessive lead or pesticide contamination in colas) and when there are conflicting viewpoints on the issue, the company needs to come back with communication that reassures and start rebuilding the emotional bond that consumers had with the brand. If handled sensitively I don’t think a brand would suffer long-term equity damage.” Maggi started building the emotional bond with consumers with its campaigns showcasing different sets of consumers talking about how they miss their favourite pack of noodles. Each ad ended with the message, “we miss you too”. Nadkarni adds that in this scenario, focusing on the problem (lead or pesticide) adds to the confusion. “These are not tangible issues that the average consumer can evaluate and hence it’s best to carry on and resume normal brand engagement at the earliest.”

On the contrary, when there is visibly a problem, such as in the Cadbury case when worms were detected in packs of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, direct remedial action, such as what Cadbury did, by changing the packaging to a tamper-proof one, is important to bring consumers back. This then needs to be communicated excessively to wipe out any lingering doubts on product quality.

S Ramesh Kumar, Professor of Marketing at IIM-Bangalore, says: “Consumer goodwill reflects the strong attitude towards a brand that is backed up by cognitive beliefs about the brand.  These associations stay strongly in the memory of consumers. They need to be reassured through the authenticity and credibility of the respective brand.” 

Emotional bond

Dominic says Maggi should focus on strengthening its emotional bond with consumers, a line that the brand has been using for some time now.

“The brand should go even more down that line as the brand all mothers trusted and reinforce it even further. The company should do everything possible to reassure consumers and enhance that relationship.”

On its return journey, Maggi has also used the opportunity to tweak the flavour of its Masala tastemaker. Now, some customers find it a tad more spicy than the earlier version.

But marketing experts warn against such actions, as the controversy with Maggi was lab test findings that it had excessive levels of monosodium glutamate and lead. “This might indirectly be seen as an admission of guilt by consumers,” says one marketing expert.

Will Maggi emerge stronger from the experience or will it go cold once the hype over its return loses steam?

That verdict will take more than two minutes.

Published on November 26, 2015

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