People buy what is memorable

Ask any person between the ages of 5 to 35. Which packaged food have they consumed the most? The answer is an overwhelming single brand and product. Nestle Maggi. More than 10 million packets of Maggi are consumed everyday. By the time you read that fact, 2,000+ packs have just been opened to be cooked. It is truly one of those quintessential brands that have etched themselves in the lives of people.

Circa May 2015. Food safety regulators from the Barabanki district of Uttar Pradesh concluded that samples of Maggi 2 minute noodles had surprisingly excessive levels of monosodium glutamate, as well as up to 17 times the acceptable limit of lead. Shockingly, packets of Maggi state that it had no added MSG at that time. This finding led to investigations in India and multiple market withdrawals. The Central Government of India then banned nationwide sales of Maggi noodles for an unspecified period on 6th June 2015. Market Share of Maggi went down from 80 percent to 0 in the Indian market overnight.

A truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for any brand in this category to lay claim to the untapped market. A brand in this category needed to drastically amp up its physical availability across the entire country to ensure their product is available to be purchased. They also needed to build memorable mental structures that replace the ones created by Maggi for decades. A herculean task, but something that would bring in unprecedented levels of growth for these minnows.

Maggi would be out of the market for about 6–7 months, giving these brands sufficient time to wipe out Maggi and place their brand as the packaged easy-to-go food that customers would select. So, what did they do? Well, they pushed the products, ran sale schemes, did some generic advertising. But that is about it. Frankly, I do not even remember a single ad, or even something memorable about any of those brands. Can you remember what Yippie, Chings, Patanjali and others did during this time?

Well, Maggi came in November 2015 and launched the same campaign that had been done previously, with same actors, but a tweaked line. All those mental structures created previously came rushing back. No wonder that Maggi regained its top spot with 60% plus market share in a record short amount of time.

People buy what’s memorable. The other brands had been handed a golden opportunity to go gung-ho and carve out a massive space for themselves within the category, but they slept. Quite literally. All that the team at Nestle had to do was just run simple mass campaigns to rekindle the forged connections and shortcuts that had been built and lo and behold!

All brands have a different name, but few have distinctive assets that make them stand out from the crowd. Understand why and you are well on your way to building a strong identity.

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