By Nidhi Mahesh
With Maggi off the shelves, 'end of an era' posted a friend on Facebook and within minutes there were several more responding in affirmation, sharing a feeling of loss. Yes, despite the big betrayal of serving unhealthy proportions of additives, there is more sadness among its millions of 'fans', than anger. Maggi has been a cult, not a mere instant noodle. Way back in the 80s, it brought to the Indian palate a new taste and boy did we fall for it! The 2-minute noodle created a bond that no other brand in its category, or even across categories of instant food, could build. Maggi is to instant noodles what Xerox is to photocopies, where the product and brand have become synonymous. After such a strong brand connect, it is disheartening to see the house crumbling!
But wait a moment. Is the house really crumbling? Scan the social media and you will find thousands of posts and tweets lamenting the loss. How often does one see a spectacle like this when the consumers see a serious violation of health norms by a brand as a personal 'loss' to them? Despite the product being pulled down from shelves in various states, there has not been any significant brand migration. If anything, people are sighing away from packet food altogether, especially the instant variety. And, this signifies the trust that the people had reposed in the brand and once betrayed they are not able to trust any in the category.
"OMG Maggi banned! How would we survive in the hostel," the tweet surmises the feeling of millions who have come to see Maggi as their survival food. Amidst such strong sentiments how does a brand deal with the crisis? While Maggi has steadily maintained it has not overstepped the health norms, there has been a visible lack of spirited defence or even a strong public statement. What millions of consumers are looking for is an assurance, a strong and convincing answer to the current findings. And as absurd as it may sound, the consumers are more likely to believe what their favourite 'Maggi guys' say than the government officials. Let me add a disclaimer here, we are not debating the product's nutrition value or lack of it. We are only discussing its deep connect with consumers. Emotions often defy logic, and Maggi has that emotional connection with its consumers. What a pity that such a strong sentiment is going to waste!
Remember the time when Cadbury had to fight the 'worm controversy' and both Pepsi and Coke had been found flouting safety standards? These were cult brands too and for a while they had to bear the anger and fight a sense of betrayal among its consumers. But the brands only came back stronger. It seemed that in the end the consumers were willing to forgive and forget. However, the brands had gone on a strong communication plan and worked hard to convince the consumers of their feasibility, proving the allegations wrong. But in the case of Maggi, the product has been banned and has a harder battle to fight. The positive is, it still has millions of consumers willing to engage and listen to its version. It now depends on the brand how it chooses to leverage this unusual brand loyalty. It has betrayed the trust of millions, as it seems, and it will need to act convincingly to win it back. Crises have always been a litmus test for brands and most have managed to make their comeback stronger, provided they learn their lessons well and respect the trust their consumers repose in them. It will be interesting to see how long it takes "2 minute mein Maggi" to be back in Indian kitchens.