In May-June 2015, the Maggi brand of instant noodle from Nestle faced its toughest season in India when it was under fire for having more than acceptable levels of lead and monosodium glutamate (MSG) in the product. It reached a climax when in June 2015 FSSAI asked for a nation-wide recall of 9 variations of Maggi Instant Noodles and Oats Masala Noodles from the markets.
Earlier, the hashtag #maggiban had trended on Twitter with not even the celebrity ambassadors being spared for their once-upon-a-time endorsement of the brand. (Twitterrati just can’t get enough of the #MaggiBan frenzy). For the brand, which was synonymous to being the most popular snack for children in India, it was a PR disaster. While the brand recalled tonnes of the product from the market (a recall worth $66.68 million), the company decided on a wait and watch approach for managing its reputation after the debacle. While the recall was hard enough to get the company CEO Paul Bulcke fly to New Delhi to douse fires, the brand had also, in the meantime, started on a slow but steady share of its own tests and results about the safety of the product, an exercise many said was ‘too little, too late’. In the quarter through June 2015, the company has reported its first quarterly loss of $10.1 million in at least 15 years.
The product had to undergo a retest and a recertification by National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration to prove it safe for human consumption. While the company awaited the test results, it had started off a publicity campaign of short ads with a hashtag #WeMissYouToo to remind the consumers of their long association with the brand. I had attended one workshop with the brand’s marketing manager, where he only spoke of how the ads for Maggi have evolved over time, and the recall value of these ads, and by proxy, of the brand itself. For a brand that has ruled the shelves for more than a decade, for many of us in the audience it was almost like nostalgia. It’s only later I understood what he did, and why it was a very clever move.
In August 2015, tests conducted by FDA had shown no unacceptable levels of lead in the products, and India courts came to the conclusion that proper procedures were taken for issuing the ban and the subsequent test results may also be of dubious nature, thereby lifting the ban on Maggi. To gain the trust of the consumers, the company came back with a series of short videos with a hashtag #welcomebackmaggi. The product came back to the Indian markets in November 2015 amidst a lot of suspicion and a huge erosion of consumer trust.
Many things went wrong in managing the online reputation of a consumer brand which failed to read the signs and make the right moves in a market which was one of the strongest for the brand. As a result, the incidents snowballed into a catastrophe that will always find a place in the books for making most disastrous mistake in online reputation management. If Nestle missed out on one major thing, it was taking the bull by the horn, i.e., taking to social media to engage with it’s consumers. While that may not have saved the brand in terms of the disaster, in my humble opinion, such engagements are often known to limit the size of the dent in the reputation of the brand concerned. Conversation helps, atleast in most of the times. What do you say?
For a more detailed report on the issue, check out this report http://fortune.com/nestle-maggi-noodle-crisis/