Naresh Gupta, Managing Partner and Chief Strategy Officer, Bang in the Middle, talks about how the old model of firefighting has run dry in the digital era in light of the Maggi controversy
Delhi | June 8, 2015
Three crises either broke or brewed over last week. They are clear indicators that the template for crisis management has broken. The earlier template of carefully calibrating the facts to provide a considered opinion to fight crisis is now either partially successful or may be completely unsuccessful. Of the three, two may be minor ones, but do give an insight on how to fight. The third is massive and is an example of all that can go wrong.
Last Friday, Delhi Airport detected suspected radioactive leakage. Two workers who handled the cargo complained of irritation and were treated in a hospital. GMR, the airport operator, was quick to respond by placing the facts in public domain. They used their social media handles to ensure that media and public knew the official position when they were commenting. By evening, the regulator announced that there was no radiation at the airport. The airport operator was proactive, always available to respond. Eventually that mattered more in containing the crisis.
Lesson 1: Proactivity helps
Last week, an online portal pointed out that the Make in India logo and a campaign from Cantonal Bank of Switzerland are suspiciously similar. Both have a lion and both have geared interlocked wheels. The news was picked up by both social media and mainstream media. The campaign for Make in India is the most extensive brand building campaign that India has been running; the charge of plagiarism did hurt the sentiments. The Government and the officials were quick to react and even blamed rival agencies for spreading the rumour. The controversy has ebbed, not because the world bought the official line, but because another Swiss brand had a spectacular meltdown and public affairs disaster.
Lesson 2: Facing the crisis and being non-rhetorical is a good tactic
Maggi’s love affair with India is 28 years long. It is India’s most loved brand; Maggi even celebrates this love in its advertising campaigns. There isn’t another brand that has the audience following as Maggi. How did a brand as loved and consumed fall prey to inept handling and bad management of crisis? At this stage of crisis, it is pointless to go into the merits of the case. Maybe it has more than permissible limit of lead, maybe not. Maybe it has excess MSG, maybe it doesn’t. The point to debate is this: Was Maggi distinctly old world like in its approach to impending crisis? In the old world approach, the brand would have waited for all the issues to ferment, hold one press conference, address issues and launch a campaign to reclaim the lost ground. This has been the approach of brands when big crisis hit them hard that last time around.
Nestle may not have anticipated that the small spark will become an uncontrollable firestorm. The test results have become a matter of technical debate; Nestle’s own responses have drowned in the deluge of comments. What matters is that consumers are taking sides (that tells you how strong the brand actually is) and Nestle has now become possibly the first food company to order a recall of the brand in the Indian market. In what should have been seen as a move that instills confidence, it is seen as admission of guilt.
With always-on media and consumer driven social chatter, brands have no choice but to be always on. In times of bad news, brands have to ensure that they don’t go into a shell and put their head in the sand. Active communication, putting facts in public domain and engaging a loyal bunch of customers are tactics that brands cannot ignore. For weeks now, consumers have been fighting a pitched battle for Maggi. By not stepping in, Maggi has lost far more than it would have bargained.
Lesson 3: Large brands are not insulated because of either size or heritage
Smart brand owners know that the old model of firefighting has run dry. New ways are sprouting, they need new hydrants.