Saturday, 24 May 2014

From 2 minutes to three decades of Maggi(c)

In 1983, India won the world cup; then, another seminal event took place. Nestle debuted its latest creation, Maggi 2 Minute Noodles to the country. And the rest, as they say, is History. What the hot dog is to America, Maggi is to India; for we belong to the generation of ubiquitous lovers of this 2 minute wonder. So much so, that India has now emerged as the largest consumer of Maggi noodles across all Nestle operations in the world.

So what really does it take to build an empire as omnipotent and beloved as Maggi’s? Well, for starters, you need a USP. For all the non marketing muggles, this implies that you need a Unique Selling Proposition; simply put, something that will set you apart and make your product sell. This USP then forms the base of your positioning strategy and subsequent marketing communications. For Maggi, its positioning was centered on its funda of convenience and ‘2 minute noodles’.  However, Maggi faced its fair share of hurdles in the beginning; for one, they had a myriad cultural variables working against them. The concept of packaged/instant foods was not popular at the time and there was still no (minutely close even) match to Mom’s ‘haath ka khaana’. Nestle therefore found it challenging to break the existing psyche of the Indian consumer and educate them to this new class of foods. In the beginning, Nestle tried to position Maggi as a product for the young working Indian woman who never had time to cook. This was a gross miscalculation on their part; they weren’t able to appeal to this target segment at all and the idea never really took off. 

 Nestle subsequently undertook extensive market research and found that children were in fact the biggest consumers of Maggi. They quickly repositioned the brand as a vibrant young brand perfect for a kid. A gamut of marketing and communication activities soon followed including distribution of branded merchandise like pencils, sketch pens, books and even Maggi clubs; all of which worked wonders for the brand. In essence, Nestle adopted a two pronged positioning strategy- based on Convenience for mothers and of course fun & good taste for kids. This enabled Maggi to become instantly relatable and helped it build a name for itself. And voila, the market for instant noodles began to grow! 

In 1993, Maggi launched its first variant of Maggi Noodles, ‘Sweet Maggi.’ Although the company undertook a heavy marketing and advertising outlay, amounting to roughly 75% of the annual expenditure, the product failed to deliver as expected and was ultimately withdrawn. Consumers already had a set of associations with respect to the brand Maggi and its new sweet variant failed to tick the right boxes. This exercise brought down the company and Maggi ended up as a loss making proposition.  To boost sales, Nestle decided to lower the price of its noodles by undertaking some cost cutting measures (thinner and therefore cheaper packaging etc). They also introduced multi packs which drove up volume and provided some relief.

In 1997, Indo Nissin came out with its own instant noodles, Top Ramen. Maggi could no longer sit back and enjoy their monopoly in the instant noodles market. As a counteractive strategy perhaps, they changed the formula for Maggi Noodles- a move that was rejected outright by consumers. People had become conditioned to that particular ‘Maggi waala taste’ and thus associated the brand with certain attributes; changing a component as central as the taste itself would mean changing the brand altogether! To counter the drop in sales, Maggi duly reverted to their original formula. This enabled them to navigate through competition and consolidate their position in the market.
In terms of Branding, we see that NestlĂ©’s positioning though centrally the same, has undergone some changes through the years. From the 90s, Nestle began to build an emotional connect with its consumers, and weave itself into the daily lives of people and assume a role greater than that of a mere snack item. Taglines such as “Mummy Bhook Lagi Hai” coupled with “Bas 2 Minutes” helped reinforce what the brand stood for. Moreover, Maggi was also able to, with a degree of subtlety, highlight the role kids play as influencers in households and capitalize on it. What’s pertinent is that Nestle was astute enough to not position Maggi as a meal in itself or as a replacement for a meal. They were culturally sensitive enough not to attempt, with futility, to replace the traditional roti sabzi with Maggi. This enabled the brand to carve out a niche for itself without over stepping or hurting any sentiments.

Soon, Maggi realized that its primary target catchment, kids, had now grown into teenagers and as Maggi was largely associated with their childhoods, they began to distance themselves from the brand. Nestle, not wanting to lose out on them, launched Maggi Macaroni, which they expected to be the next Maggi 2 Minute Noodles. However, the product’s pricing proved to be their failing. A 75g pack of Macaroni was priced at Rs. 11 whereas a 100g pack of Maggi Noodles cost Rs. 9. There was thus no incentive for people to move out of their comfort zones and try out this new Maggi Macaroni when cheaper, albeit unbranded, alternatives were easily available. Nestle failed to highlight the value proposition effectively and Maggi Macaroni ultimately faced the axe.

The year 2005 proved to be a major turning point for Maggi. The aim was to now position Maggi as a more wholesome food item; tasty but more importantly, Healthy. They thus introduced Atta Noodles. This was an exhibit by Nestle to expand its brand image and be more than just a tasty snack but also a brand that cares for your health. This was reflected in their promotional campaigns as well, ‘Taste Bhi, Health Bhi’. Maggi was now the perfect food item for Mothers to feed their veggie- hating kids and also for finicky teenagers who’d otherwise perhaps cringe at the sight of boring old vegetables.

Successful times reigned supreme and before we knew it, Maggi was celebrating 25 years of success in India.  They rolled out a powerful Ad campaign centered on developing a strong emotional connect with the loyal customer base it had built and, in a sense, grown up with over the years. The kids who had once enjoyed it were themselves adults and many of them parents now. Maggi had thus grown into something bigger and more significant. In essence, there were 25 years worth of stories to tell! Called ‘Me and Meri Maggi’, the Campaign intended to bring out the bond that people shared with their Maggi. The message Nestle was trying to send out was: Everyone has a Maggi Story to tell, share yours with us and we’ll feature it!
Taking ‘Me aur Meri Maggi’ a step further, Nestle roped in Bollywood royalty Big B himself, as a narrator of Maggi stories in their TV ads. His mass appeal helped add more novelty to the brand and made the campaign immensely popular. Maggi was thus firmly able to establish its new positioning, ‘2 minutes mein khushiyan’.

So, in essence, Nestle’s success has had an interesting recipe of sorts; To begin with, it created a segment for itself in the Indian market and consequently enjoyed the First Mover advantage for quite a while; this, despite the fact that they made some glaring mistakes, such as choosing the wrong group to target, but learnt from them and more than compensated in the long run. Secondly, they evolved with the times. They recognized the need for improved and consistently sought to give their customers something more. Most importantly, Maggi was able to develop that crucial connect with its customers that went beyond the realm of food and flavor. This ultimately laid the way for its success in the Indian Market and the position it occupies today. They developed effective positioning and were able to translate it into their communication and branding strategies.

In fact, I myself am hardly a consumer of Maggi. This just goes to show how, to play on the words of the great and infamous Lance Armstrong, It isn't about the noodles. I rest my case.

 Maggi, through the years: a Continuum

       1980s                                                                                                         Now
Fast to cook, Good to eat                                                            Meri Masala Maggi       
                     Mummy, bhook lag rahi hai                  2 Minute mein khushiyaan                                                                       Bas do minute                            Me & Meri Maggi
                                                         Taste Bhi, Health Bhi                                

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