10 lessons for businesses from the Maggi fiasco


Nestle is currently being trashed over its silence. I wouldn’t be so harsh. When you are taking stock of a crisis, silence is a very good idea. In fact, it is better than kneejerk reactions and jingoism.

There are thumb rules in life; and they apply to marketing as well. What you do not say or do cannot be held against you. That’s a simple and sound philosophy.

What next for Maggi? No crisis comes with advance intimation.

The world; and indeed young emerging companies are watching with bated breath, how Maggi comes out of the proverbial soup. Brand re-positioning is in order.

Here are 10 lessons that businesses can learn from the Maggi fiasco.

  1. Unconditional apology: There’s no better time for the president of a corporation to record a video and render an unconditional apology for the heartburn caused (with Indian language voice options available) while the heat is on. People rarely remember what you did to them, but they always remember how you made them feel.
  2. Build parallel credibility: Maggi was faced with a credibility crisis in India. It went on to get validated by the Agri Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA). This is almost like a film flopping in India and then becoming a superhit in the US. The Indians will start wondering if they missed something; and probably go watch the movie again!
  3. Empower customers: The thing I love about home pregnancy tests is how each woman can know for herself whether she is pregnant. Can each customer know for herself how much MSG/lead there is in Maggi or any other such product?
  4. Stay your course: It is tempting at this point for Maggi to pass the buck- that Indian street food such as chowmein and chaat contain MSG, not in parts per million, but in grams! It is hideous, yes. However, in crisis situations, the fewer enemies you create, the lesser battles you have to fight.
  5. Build small blocks of good news: The brand must separate the components of its customer-journey; manufacturing, packaging, storage, weather and temperature conditions, logistics and distribution, and identify the safe-areas. The transparency and intention of the management will be visible, and blocks of safe news can be built around the crisis.
  6. Grand announcements: This is the worst time for the brand to announce any CSR programs or charity. If Djokovic invites you to a game of tennis, you cannot play carom with him - you’ve got to fight fair and focus on the problem at hand.
  7. Share insights: Whatever problem areas emerge, let the industry benefit from it as a whole. It is imperative to convert a negative chronological landmark to a positive one.
  8. Employee language: The minute employees swipe their way out of the office, they will be individuals answering questions in their social circles. They are the most valuable ambassadors of the company. It is critical that they feel “included” and vested in a positive story about what happens inside their company.
  9. New visual hammer: Nestle has to invest in a new look and give up Maggi’s sunshine-yellow look. They will need to invest in a new identity, a new visual hammer.
  10. Nestle eats Maggi: The guy who came up with ‘actions speak louder than words’ gave us something to live by. I would shoot a video of everyone from the President to the errand boy at Nestle, cooking, eating and celebrating a Maggi day and release it in a zillion languages. Facebook, Twitter and Google are behemoths; and they don’t have brand ambassadors; Nestle’s employees and customers are its greatest ambassadors. And even if you want an ambassador, go with a celebrity mother who doesn’t need the money. Keep it simple!

Maggi does take more than two minutes to cook, but this crisis has given it more than two minutes of unwanted attention.

Time to Cntrl+Alt+Del and reboot Maggi’s brand story.

(On 26th March, Maggi samples tested by the Government Regional Public Analyst Laboratory on the Baba Raghav Das Medical College campus in Gorakhpur were found to contain MSG, contrary to its labelling of ‘No added MSG’.

The junior analysts at the lab went on record to say, “Maggi would have gotten away with a fine of Rs 8,000-10,000 at most” had it not insisted on taking the samples for further testing to Central Food Laboratory in Kolkata. The latter found lead in excess of permissible limits in the samples, leading to the crackdown.

The suggestion of ‘getting away with excess MSG’ is quite scary. As the news spread, Maggi was going out of shop shelves as well as being cleaned out of kitchens. This wasn’t a crisis; but a catastrophe!)


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