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7 Jun

How Maggi put Nestle in an ‘Instant Soup’…

The most loved food product of the nation, Maggi Noodles, recently found itself in hot water following the tests conducted on it, which reveal the presence of unhealthy levels of Lead and MSG in it.

The Delhi government banned the sale of Maggi for 15 days and instructed Nestle India to remove its existing stock from the market immediately. This move was replicated by many states in quick succession. This resulted in a wide variety of reactions by people ranging from abashed support on Facebook to a slew of Twitter memes.

Nestle is facing its worst crisis ever, from the raging media storm which has cascaded to the digital media. The Maggi crisis generated a total of 4.43 lakh conversations on social media. June 5th saw more than 76,000 conversations with more than 19,000 average conversations per day. With 4.37 lakh conversations, Twitter contributed the maximum to the controversy. The most common conversations involved the initial shock over the recall of the product and subsequent questioning of the truth, and the quintessential memes, that went viral. The highlight of these conversations is that 61% of them resonated with negative sentiment towards the product.

Add to it, Maggi maintaining wobbly statements and silence for long on the matter, is only adding fuel to the fire. Rather than trying to convince Maggi fans of its goodness, the company should convince the government that Maggi is free from any harmful ingredients. They could learn a trick or two from its peers who have faced the similar controversy, albeit, in the absence of living beast in the form of digital media.

Considering Cadbury’s controversy where Dairy Milk was found with worms or Pepsi and Coca Cola finding themselves in trouble over elevated level of pesticide, the companies launched active PR campaigns which touted its safety standards, accompanied by gripping ad campaigns by Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan respectively.

While these brands didn’t have it easy either, considering they lay low in the advertising space for a few months following the public outcry, Nestle and Maggi are facing the brunt of the controversy on the social media, which refuses to die down.

Needless to say Nestle will necessarily have to launch a publicity blitz to save its product, but the more it delays the inevitable the more its silence will be read as unfavorable. With its public image becoming tainted in connection with the food safety scandal in India, Nestle has hired US lobbying and public relations firm APCO Worldwide in order to reinstate its reputation among key stakeholders and consumers alike.

APCO is already known in India for its work that helped the state of Gujarat change its post-2002 riots image to present itself as an investment hub, in addition to helping Johnson & Johnson in 2013, when its baby powder came under market scrutiny for unacceptable contents. In a nation obsessed with Maggi, it remains to be seen if Nestle can pull the same PR rabbit out of its hat.

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