Home >Industry >Advertising >Maggi’s social media strategy to handle food safety concerns falls flat

Mumbai: Brand consultants have criticized Nestle India’s clumsy damage control attempt on social media after news reports said its instant noodles brand Maggi could be banned in Uttar Pradesh following the state’s food safety department allegedly finding harmful substances in some of its samples.

Tweeting automated responses and sharing heavy text files with clarifications seem like a move by someone who does not quite understand how the micro-blogging site Twitter functions, consultants said.

A look at Maggi’s Twitter handle @MaggiIndia shows how it responded to angry tweets about the alleged presence of monosodium glutamate (MSG), an artificial flavour enhancer, and lead in some of its samples.

Responses such as ‘We do not add MSG to MAGGI noodles. Some ingredients may contain naturally-occurring Glutamate, which can be mistaken for MSG.’ And “Maggi Noodles is not banned anywhere, continue enjoying them!!" crowd @MaggiIndia’s timeline.

A Times of India report on 16 May said the Uttar Pradesh government may ban Maggi noodles, after the Lucknow Food Safety and Drug Administration found traces of MSG and lead in some samples. While lead in large quantities is considered lethal, MSG too can prove dangerous for some people consuming it.

Many people who felt food safety norms were flouted vented their anguish on Twitter, while others spoke fondly of growing up with Maggi. Yet others shared morphed images of preacher Gurmeet Ram Raahim Singh—famous for his movie MSG: The Messenger—on Maggi packs.

With rising bad publicity, the brand on Tuesday drafted a letter filled with legalese to defend its stand and shared it in a pdf format on Twitter—again, a strict Twitter no-no.

“I think they’re being advised badly. When someone interacts with a brand online, they expect a human response rather than a robotic one. This is typical of FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) brands. They seem to have lost the plot by posting PDF files on twitter. Most Twitter users access it through the phone. Who is going to see a PDF file on their phones?" asks Mahesh Murthy, founder of Pinstorm, a digital brand management firm.

Moreover, the brand is at the risk of underestimating the problem. Food is a high-involvement category and the brand is loved by children and adults who have grown up consuming Maggi. People in India are lot more health-conscious and reports such as this may need to be addressed immediately.

“The brand will have a real crisis on their hands if they don’t handle this well," says Ramanujam Sridhar, founder and chief executive officer, Integrated Brand-comm Pvt. Ltd, a brand consultancy.

Nestle’s approach differs from that of its peers. Way back in 2003, when reports surfaced of a few instances of worms in Dairy Milk bars made by Cadbury India Ltd (now Mondelez India Foods Ltd), the company launched a public relations campaign for the trade in two weeks. In three months, the company revamped the entire packaging and launched a major advertising campaign featuring actor Amitabh Bachchan to reassure consumers of the safety of the product.

Similarly, when reports of high pesticide content in Coca-Cola soft drinks emerged, the company got on board Aamir Khan to improve its image.

Nestle India’s parent, Nestle AG is more proactive on this front. In 2010, when Nestle was targeted by environment activist group Greenpeace for sourcing palm oil from a company that was said to be destroying sustainable forests and endangering orangutans in South-East Asia, Nestle AG managed it well.

Initially, it tried to censor opposition by taking down a YouTube video by Greenpeace citing copyright issues, which showed a person eating an orangutan’s finger from a KitKat pack. The approach faced customer hostility, leading to negative feedback on Nestle’s Facebook page.

The company then took a step back and took a more inclusive approach, starting a dialogue with Greenpeace to know more about the issue. It then stopped its trade with the company that supplied palm oil and appointed an independent NGO to verify the credentials of all of its raw material suppliers.

The smart social media and crisis management that Nestle had displayed in the Greenpeace case seems to be clearly missing from the Maggi situation.

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