Brands and controversies: Coke, Pepsi vs Nokia

By , agencyfaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | August 20, 2007
Coke and Pepsi have been at the receiving end of it and, recently, Nokia has joined the list. What is it that brands need to do when faced with such situations

After the & #BANNER1 & # cola brands Coke and Pepsi were involved in a storm of controversy, it is now the turn of mobile giant Nokia. The question that needs an urgent answer is what is it that these companies need to do when their brands are caught in controversy? What are the remedial measures they need to follow?

We have seen the cola brands go on the defensive. As per industry experts and the public, they have handled the situation in an irresponsible manner. Nokia, on the other hand, took prompt notice of the matter and made several public advisory announcements about its faulty BL-5C battery, which was manufactured by Matsushita Battery Industrial Co. Ltd of Japan between December 2005 and November 2006. Nokia further offered to replace for free any BL 5C battery subject to the product advisory.

What action should brands take when faced with such controversies? Harish Bijoor of Harish Bijoor Consults says, "First of all, accepting one's fault is half the battle won. After which, the source of the problem should be identified and corrected at the earliest. All this should be communicated well to the consumer to make him or her realise that the brand has indeed taken (remedial) steps and to restore credibility and faith." Bijoor believes that the action taken by any brand in such a situation should be highly demonstrative, not just based on managing returns. He thinks that due to Nokia's high credibility and strong international brand presence, the brand has not lost much. But this doesn't mean that there will be no impact on the brand. "Even for a short time, this could affect the sales and credibility of the brand," he says.

Bijoor is of the opinion that the strategy adopted by Nokia, though prompt, was still not good for its brand image in a country such as India. The reason: The Indian consumer is not educated enough to see its remedial action as a responsible step. There might be a number of consumers who are educated, but at the pan-India level, their numbers are fewer. With consumers who are not so well educated, the faulty batteries will go against Nokia's brand image to the extent that in the future, it may face a credibility issue if another problem of a similar nature crops up. The problem arises from the fact that India does not have a concrete consumer interaction platform where consumers can be educated or made aware of such issues nor does it haves a strong consumer redressal system in place, explains Bijoor.

Jagdeep Kapoor chairman and managing director of Samsika Marketing Consultants, offers a different point of view. Kapoor thinks that Nokia has taken immediate notice and well thought out action by issuing product advisories across media platforms to spread awareness regarding the faulty batteries. "Nokia has immense credibility as a brand and things like this can happen to any brand. The point here is that this won't harm the image of the brand to a large extent or in the long run, as public memory is short. In the short term, it will have an impact, but as the brand has taken corrective measures, rather than having a negative impact on the brand image, it will only enhance the Nokia identity," adds Kapoor. When faced with a controversial situation like this, responsibility and accountability on the part of the brand is essential, states Kapoor.

An honest approach, transparency and quick response are the factors that tide a brand through controversy, say industry experts. These should be followed under all circumstances to build a strong image for the brand in the minds of the consumer and the marketer. Industry experts also warn brands against going on the defensive and denying outright that they are at fault, as did Coke and Pepsi.

Advertising experts believe that the media plays a major role in this situation. The Nokia situation was handled well by the media, but the cola controversy was over hyped. Clear communication is the need of the hour and this can be done through honest, responsible advertising, which builds bridges, rather than portraying half-truths and messages that are muddled about their intentions.

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