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How a social media strategy could have saved Maggi

While digital marketers are exploring the opportunity in the Food & Beverage industry online, there are products which are dealing with regulatory concerns in the offline world. In a recent revelation by the FSSAI (Food Safety and Standard Authority of India), high levels of Lead and Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) were founds in India largest Noodles brand – Maggi and it was declared unsafe for consumption.

Furthermore, Nestle not only ignored food safety concerns but couldn’t employ its PR machinery in place that could have salvaged the brand image post the ban. The selected few consumers who are emotionally attached to the noodles brands, is largely on back of its advertising in the past and its recent ‘campaigns of denial’ failed to garner any new Maggi fans.

Zubin Nalawalla, Co-founder of LIQVD Asia echoed the sentiment and said, “I guess Maggi was denying the situation all-along and did not see the seriousness of this allegation. They should have been prepared for the worst. Their statements and communication until the state-wide ban was extremely positive, thus putting them in a foot-in-mouth syndrome.“

In this age of digital marketing, it is imperative that advertisers acknowledge the importance of social media marketing and employ marketing strategies when the brand name is in jeopardy. For long, Maggi has enjoyed its spot for being the most loved and fondly remembered noodles brands in the country by children and adults alike but violation of food safety norms garnered equal negative reaction from the consumers.

Maggi failed to salvage the brand when Twitteratis flooded the social media platforms with anguish over food safety norms violation by Maggi, but it also couldn’t use the advertising team to mop the mess on social media.

Through its official Twitter handle the food brand posted, “Extensive testing reveals no excess lead in your favourite Maggi Noodles!” and shared documents which bear the results of the ‘extensive testing’. But it ignored the fact that the Indian consumers appreciate personal involvement at the time of crisis and an automated response or an extensive research by a regulatory body cannot achieve those objectives.

However, we must look at social media as a tool in its entirety. “While social media has made it possible for news and views to spread rapidly, people sometimes fail to understand the immense power and thus the responsibility it puts in their hands,” said Vikas Mehta, Chief Marketing Officer at Lowe Lintas and Partners, India.

But it is the nature of human psyche that most people are quick to jump on the bandwagon of the popular sentiment, without necessarily knowing all the facts. “Prejudices based on half-knowledge show up on social media often prematurely. There’s a degree of immaturity with which people seem to have jumped to conclusions on this subject,” he added.

In such as scenario, brands cannot afford the neglect the value of communication taking place on social media. Despite the negative sentiment in the market around Maggi, it must make efforts to steer the conversation in a positive direction. According to Mr Mehta, “The best course for Maggi would be to put out the facts from their perspective, share their point of view on the subject and quickly move on. You can’t win a debate where public perception is against you. You need to change the conversation. Maggi needs to find a new topic and start a different conversation.”

“Maggi should play to its strengths and go back to things that have made an entire generation of Indians a Maggi fan. It’s an opportunity to reinvigorate the brand’s equity and if I were them, I’d be working overtime to make that happen.” Mr Mehta concluded.

It is too late for Maggi Noodles to do damage control now, but if Nestle wanted to continue its position as market leader it must focus its energy towards protecting other brands under its umbrella. “There were reports/rumors of live larvae found in Nestle milk powder. The immediate strategy has to be to safeguard the other Maggi/Nestle products. The Maggi brand under its belt has taste enhancers, tomato ketchup and more products which may also receive boycott or speculations. These have to be protected and a strategy to combat overall Maggi boycott has to be ready. Their major concerns should not be the losses that happen to Maggi but how to win customer faith again. It should look for human Maggi stories other than drum beating scripted ‘meri Maggi’ stories,” added Mr Nalawalla.

The Maggi debacle has put other noodles brands in India also in jeopardy as questions around their quality standards have been raised. Noodles brands such as ITC’s Yippee noodles and Indo Nissin Food’s Top Ramen have comes under regulatory scanner. Such concerns across the nation will not only dent revenues of the food processing units but also the consumers sentiment towards noodles, pasta and macaroni manufactured in India.

However, Maggi Noodles has won its way of gaining foreign clearances for export but it is unlikely to see relief in the Indian market, any time soon. Maggi lovers will continue to miss it but hopefully the F&B experts will ensure that Maggi noodles will bounce back and hit the shelves again in the Indian super markets just like its peers Cadbury and Pepsico did a couple of years back. But with increase in the number of health conscious Indian consumers, we can expect more brands selling processed and packaged food items to come under regulatory scanner and step up its food safety standard for the sake of positive following in the market.