Amith Prabhu: Brand Maggi – 20 years to build, 2 minutes to get destroyed!

08 Jun,2015

By Amith Prabhu


I complete two years of writing this weekly column. I think this is now easily the longest running weekly column in India on Public Relations. Thank you for reading it and supporting me with feedback. No better way to start the third year of writing than with the focus on the ongoing crisis to have hit one of India’s most loved brands.


I don’t think there is anyone who grew up in urban or semi urban India, now in their 20s, 30s and 40s and did not savour Maggi in its myriad forms. Maggi was part of every kitchen and has been a leader in the instant noodles category. The last few weeks have been dreadful for this much loved brand.


Most of the damage has happened because the brand failed to communicate. There has been a ‘Promoted’ tweet that has been floating but nothing much else. And to think of it the real problem began in Barabanki 15 months ago which was resurrected recently.


I wrote a column in December when Uber faced a crisis and the simple steps apply even to this crisis. What starts as a risk turns into an issue and then emerges as a crisis before becoming a disaster. The type of crisis Maggi is facing has been experienced by leaders in the past – Cadburys with worms and Pepsi and Coke with pesticides.


The straightforward approach is to Be Alert, Admit the mistake, Apologise genuinely, Act fair, shun Arrogance, Advertise remedies, Accept criticism, Allow questions. Maggi’s silence has been deafening and confusing. Not sure if it is ignorance of crisis management principles, high confidence in the product and therefore arrogance or both.


But this has hit the brand and the corporate parent very hard. No one ever died because of Maggi. But this episode makes it feel as if Maggi is a silent killer. There are various angles including conspiracy theories that competition may have played a trick or two. All that talk will keep happening until Nestle India takes control of the message and does a few things.


The CEO needs to put out a two part video. One part where he is having a Maggi meal at home with family and at office with colleagues. The other part where he is talking about the confidence the company has in the product and its safety.


The company needs to bring out front-page advertisements because the opportunity to enjoy earned media has gone away. These ads should run for a week educating consumers about the action being taken and the goodness of the product. With the kind of market share Maggi enjoyed and the revenues it brought in it would not be a bad idea for the global CEO to fly down and meet the authorities.


It needs to use social media to interact smartly and there are several recent examples of cases where the brand custodians have defended products vigorously on the online medium. None of this is rocket science and it is surprising that Nestle has not taken the basic steps during a crisis. Maggi is a good example of how a brand takes twenty years to build and just two minutes to get destroyed.


As I was writing this column over the weekend there was news that Nestle had hired a communications firm to help it in these days of crisis. It may be too little too late. Fortunately, Indians have a weak memory and easily forgive brands. There are groups already planning Maggi meet-ups to show solidarity to the instant nodle they grew up on. Time will tell what becomes of this iconic brand. In the meantime, other FMCG brands may do well in pulling their socks.


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