‘Maggi’ Brand with a taste

Twenty-five years ago a school teacher entered a classroom with a stranger who had a big cardboard carton. Students were asked to come up, one by one, and pick a shiny yellow packet bearing this strange inscription ‘Maggi Noodles’. With the Chinese food invasion yet to happen, few amongst the children and teacher knew what exactly noodles were.

‘FREE’ however is a powerful four letter word and children grabbed the packet eagerly. Some of the braver boys opened it and munched on raw noodles while the rest dutifully took the packet home. One boy’s mother, like most women of her time, was rather suspicious of most things packaged. She scrutinised the yellow pack rather carefully to ensure that it was ‘pure’ vegetarian and then she cooked (probably overcooked) it.

The resultant yellow masala flavored spongy strands were wolfed down by the boys and before you could say noodles, Maggi became a quintessential Indian food. As a consumer, Maggi has been part of numerous memorable experiences of many children’s life. From being a midnight snack to helping with early hours of mugging for exams to eating plates of cheese and ‘anda’ Maggi at the night canteen after an evening of drunken revelry.

From hot Maggi after getting drenched in the rain to it being the first cooking experience for numerous youngsters when the folks were away. From carrying packets of it on a trek to carrying packets for friends who live abroad (they insist that the Indian flavors are unique). Everyone, rich or poor, has his or her own Maggi tale to tell.

As an observer of branding and advertising too, the brand’s a shoo-in for the India Marketing Hall of Fame, if such a hall were ever to be constituted. For starters this was the brand that pioneered the entire category of packaged food in India. Not easy in a country where freshly cooked food was the norm.

The outstanding sampling exercise apart, the first commercial for the brand was one of the most memorable commercials of its time (from that great ad agency of the 1980s, HTA Delhi). It was probably the first example of Hinglish in a main stream commercial from the opening ‘Mummy bhook lagi hai’ to the tag line that went ‘Fast to cook and good to eat, Maggi makes a tasty treat’ and ‘two minutes’ became a part of the popular lexicon.

Such was the success of the brand that push carts, dhabas and college canteens added the brand. Importantly they did not substitute it with a cheaper brand but used ‘real’ Maggi to their menu and it became the generic for instant noodles. Competitors such as Top Ramen and Cup o’ Noodles tried to emulate Maggi but met with little or no success. The brand though did lose its way and even changed the taste only to back track and bring back the original flavors.

The brand franchise was extended into sauces, pickles and soups. While the sauce was a runaway success (another outstanding HTA Delhi ad campaign, the Javed Jaafri ‘Boss! The Sauce is different’) the pickles and soups have never quite managed to duplicate that success. Over the years the brand has introduced a number of new variants and today it’s trying to gain a foothold onto the health platform with a ‘flour’ variant.

The advertising has been solid but never reached the spectacular heights of those initial days. But so long as it remains fast to cook and good to eat, someone will be writing about this brand another 25 years hence.