'Don't be a noodle. Be a Smoodle.' For the Top Ramen brand of instant noodles, it was the next best thing to say.
After all, market leader Maggi Noodles (from the Nestle stable) had appropriated the 'convenience' aspect of instant noodles through a combination of clever sub-branding ('2-Minute Noodles') and well-pitched advertising ('Bhook lagi…Bas do minute'). To the extent that Maggi had almost become generic to the category.
So 'smoother noodles' - hence the 'Smoodle' - became Top Ramen's differentiator at the time of the brand's launch in the country nine years ago. And typifying that smoothness were Top Ramen's three 'brand mascots', representative of the three flavours the brand was retailed in, and communication that sought to portray the brand as funkier, sexier and more 'with it'.
Clever product and image differentiation did help Top Ramen build a small band of loyalists, but failed to make a dent in Maggi's fortunes. Signing on Shah Rukh Khan to endorse the brand and moving onto the 'taste' platform - with the launch of 'Curry noodles' - went only that far and no further. Maggi 2-Minute Noodles, with its first-mover advantage and two-decade-long presence continues to exercise a stranglehold over the market, with a share of approximately 80 per cent.
So now, Indo Nissin Foods, makers of Top Ramen, is trying something new. Piggybacking on the 'health' trend, the brand is now being positioned as the healthier noodle. An angle hitherto unexplored by the competition. "We believe the category has gained mass acceptance, and to grow further, it has to start offering more 'food value', especially as it is consumed a lot by children and teenagers," explains Nitish Mukherjee, executive director, Orchard Advertising, which has partnered Indo Nissin in the latest positioning initiative. "The premise of 'taste' had to evolve to a more meaningful product differentiation to take the brand forward."
With this as the starting point, research agency NFO-MBL was commissioned to conduct a market research. "Post research, we examined the category dynamics and realised that today, convenience has become a given. To differentiate and grow, we would have to offer the next level of benefits to the consumer. This led us to the health platform," says Mukherjee. Based on the research findings, Indo Nissin reconstituted the product with vitamins and calcium. "Top Ramen gives the consumer at least 25 per cent of his or her daily requirement of calcium and vitamin B1 and B2," vouches Mukherjee.
Profiling the target audience came next, something critical to Top Ramen's success vis-à-vis Maggi. "In terms of segmentation, we decided to move away from the core of Maggi, which is young children," Mukherjee informs. "We decided to target the 'tweens' (11-to-19 year olds). This group is the largest consumer segment as far as instant noodles are concerned."
The final task was to communicate the product benefit ('More Vitamins. More Calcium. More Energy') to the target audience in an engaging and clutter-breaking manner. In the past, the brand had roped in Shah Rukh Khan to deliver its messages, but this time round, the client-agency team decided against celebrity endorsements. "The product is the real hero," says Mukherjee. "We realised that in terms of share-of-voice, we would not match the competition, so we needed communication that would have tremendous cut-through and entertainment value." Given this, the agency decided to use the claymation technique to tell a zany story.
The commercial is about these four characters - Kack the Dude, Pow the Big, Jah the Curious and Zoot the Hyper - who are stuffing themselves on Top Ramen to the beat of music playing out of a boom box. The more they eat, the more they sway and nod to the music, and the more the whole place shakes and rocks. Suddenly, Jah's vigorously bobbing head clean falls off. "More Calcium. More Vitamin. More Energy. The New Top Ramen. Get on top," the voiceover informs, as Jah picks his head up and screws it back on apologetically. "Claymation allows for willing suspension of disbelief, and since it has not been used too much in Indian advertising, it brings a certain freshness," Mukherjee points out.
A new beginning for Top Ramen, no doubt. But a lot will depend on how stories pertaining to Kack, Pow, Jah and Zoot evolve in the days to come. If pitched intelligently, the characters can rise to Fido-Dido levels of popularity. Also, care has to be taken to see that the zany foursome does not overwhelm the underlying 'healthier noodle' message.
Agency : Orchard Advertising, Bangalore
Account Management: Nitish Mukherjee, Samarjit Choudhry, Nutan Sooda
Creative: Thomas Xavier, Raj Kurup, Sagar Prajapati
Production House: MAD Films, Mumbai
Animation Studio: Famous Animation, Mumbai
Animation: E Suresh, Nandu, Vaibhav
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