The CSE report has set the cat amongst the pigeons, once again. A sort of honey war has started amongst the brands falling on the good and the bad side of the report. So, will it result in “Honey, I shrunk your market share” situation for any of the brands?
If we just look at past records and take two brands, Maggi and Cadbury, both of which were at the receiving end of adulteration reports, the simple answer is no. Nestle and Cadbury both had to withdraw Maggi and various chocolate brands, respectively, from the market, and dispose of stocks worth crores.
And we, the consumer, are still not clear if Maggi, indeed, had dangerous levels of lead or Cadbury chocolates did have worms. Yet, within a short period of time, both the brands recovered and are today still top of the charts. So, what happened?
The answer in my mind is straightforward. We, as humans, are wired to be defensive of our actions, right or wrong. How many of us actually admit our mistakes? Our first reaction is to justify it. We try and wriggle out of a mistake because admitting to it and taking course correction does not come to us naturally.
Therefore, when a brand, which has been around for some time, is found guilty of a lapse, it has room to wriggle out of it. Because the consumer of the brand is not willing to accept that the brand can make such errors. If he does, then it reflects upon him. That he did not make the right choice. That the consumer erred.
What the brand needs to do is to just give a good defensive reason. “We tested it in our labs and it was fine.” “The error happened only in one batch”. “We follow all FSSAI standards.” (FSSAI stands for Food Safety and Standards Authority of India.)
And the consumer latches onto it. He is happy to justify his choice. He is now more than convinced that the brand can’t harm him. He latches onto the brand explanation. “It was one batch only.“ “Neither me or anyone I know ever discovered any insects in my chocolate.” “See, they follow all standards. I knew I can trust them.” So, he happily keeps on buying the brand.
The other reason why consumers keep buying the brand is because they genuinely believe that if a leading brand has problems, then all other brands will be the same. So it’s a Hobson’s choice. Doesn’t make any difference. Let me, therefore, keep on buying the brand.
Will any other brand, named negatively in the CSE (Centre of Science and Environment) report, answer a simple question? “Does the brand contain so-called Chinese sugar syrups, which are not identifiable in tests in India?” If they are not using the syrup, then what stops them from denying the fact? Instead, the standard answer is, “We pass all stringent tests and standards set by FSSAI.” Why not address the elephant in the room?
Because if they do, then they will not trigger the defence mechanism of their consumer. And by not triggering the same, they will expose themselves.
Unless, of course, brands, which passed with flying colours, take the report to town. And make it another bee in their bonnet.
(The author is a former adman currently based in Bharat, mentoring and advising startups, while sermonising in some B-schools.)