Sexism by instant noodle: just who is Maggi targeting with #WeMissYouToo?

Maggi has had a bad year, to put it mildly. First, it seems they were given the short end of the stick for no reason or fault of their own. The Food and Safety Standards Authority of India ordered Nestle India to withdraw all Maggi instant noodles variants from India because they were “unsafe and hazardous” for humans courtesy high lead and MSG content.

As a result, Maggi has reported a loss of Rs 64.40 crore for the June quarter. Which is its first quarterly loss in over three decades. These withdrawn noodles were sold instead in Singapore because apparently, Singapore's food safety standards are lower than ours.

To add insult to injury, the government also filed a class action suit against Nestle India, asking for Rs 640 crore in damages for “alleged unfair trade practices, false labelling and misleading advertisements”. Because all the other advertisements we see are steeped in reality, naturally. Much like the government’s own promises to us, perhaps.

 Sexism by instant noodle: just who is Maggi targeting with #WeMissYouToo?

A screengrab from a new Maggi ad.

The Bombay High Court has now set aside the ban and said that the national food regulator acted in an “arbitrary” manner. The court has ordered Nestle India to conduct new safety tests on the product before relaunching it.

Through all this, Nestle had maintained a radio silence. It held a press conference after almost a month of the ban being announced, by which time the charges had become a PR nightmare for them. Nestle then announced they’d do fresh tests and that their products were safe. The company also got a new Managing Director on board.

In the meantime though, Baba Ramdev has launched Patanjali’s brand of noodles made from atta and named “Atta Noodles”. Packaged in surprisingly similar colours and font and packing material as Maggi Noodles – what a coincidence – the good Baba-ji’s noodles are swadeshi, because as we all know Indi-Chini bhai-bhai.

So to counter all these troubles, what did Maggi do? Like all good companies, it put together a digital marketing campaign. Unlike the white noise that emanated from Nestle when the crisis hit them, now with a new Managing Director at its helm, Nestle has seemingly planned to kill us softly not with noodles, but with really strange videos. Nestle India Managing Director, Suresh Narayanan had announced that Maggi noodles will be relaunched by December. To prepare us for the Return Of The Sith, Maggi has created a campaign called #WeMissYOuToo, with videos that make Sooraj Pancholi and Athiya Shetty-starrer Hero look like a Kurosawa film.

In WeMissYouToo Gajar, there’s a Ramdev-esque chap who looks like he should be at work and earning a living instead of sitting on his kitchen counter, looking into a camera and talking about how the vegetables in his kitchen are lonely, because they’re a supporting cast to the main hero (the noodle that shall not be named). And as he says, “Miss you yaar. Kab aayega waapis?” (When will you come back, buddy?)

In WeMissYouToo Pitaji, a girl in her late teens tells us how her parents and she went to watch Queen. When they returned, her dad who was feeling guilty – because of “equality” – went into the kitchen and made Maggi for everyone and announced in his typical “mard-style” that he’d made food for everyone. The girl’s mother was so happy! And now that there’s no Maggi, he doesn’t go into the kitchen. Then the girl tells the camera – “I miss you Maggi. Come back soon.”

In WeMissYouToo Neighbours, a young man in his early twenties stands at the door of his flat and tells us how he would never acknowledge his neighbours, but now he does so because he has to eat. And then says “I miss you yaar. Come back man.”
In WeMissYouToo Mom, another young chap in the same age group stands in his house and tells us how he’s never troubled his mom about food late at night, after partying. Because it’s not right to bother his mother. And then says, “Kab waapis aayega yaar? Miss you.” (When will you return, buddy?)

And in what I am hoping is the penultimate video, WeMissYouToo Menu Card, another young gent tells us how he has to respect home delivery menu cards now. Which he would earlier chuck in the dustbin. “Kya kya karwaoge yaar? Ab aa bhi jaao. Miss you.” (What all will you make me do, buddy? Come back now.)

I get what Maggi’s brand team is trying to say. Maggi is everyone’s buddy and constant companion, providing solace in times of hunger. But since when did Maggi become a male domain? The only video featuring a girl is also a story about her father cooking Maggi noodles. Do we now have to deal with sexism by instant noodle?

Clearly, the advertising agency responsible for this campaign is aware that Maggi’s noodles have long been the staple fare in IIMs, IITs and other educational institutions. For some reason, this has translated into making Maggi a male snack, as though women don’t go to graduate school or don’t want snacks like male students. Because women, who must have cooking coded into their DNA, must be rustling up elaborate meals every time they’re hungry. While the ads end up to unwittingly suggest women may have better taste in food, maybe it would be wise to call up the scriptwriter of the ad in which Madhuri Dixit did aerobics while feeding her family Maggi “healthy” noodles. Just to get some gender parity in your ads.

The question of the demographic that Nestle wants to title with this series of ads is perplexing. Young men in their twenties, who talk to themselves, live in posh bungalows and apartments, can’t cook and refuse to pay for a cook or order home delivery? The aberration in this pattern is the middle-aged father who thinks cooking unhealthy (because of high salt and fat content, not lead) noodles for his family is the way to show gender equality.

That’s quite a niche audience. Baba is going to capture the market at this rate, because he’s going to sell to all Right-wingers, cutting across gender.

On a side note, Bournvita, do yourself a favour: get safety checks done and put in place a good crisis management plan. Last I checked, Baba Ramdev was planning on launching Powervita, a health drink brand for children, to take on Complan, Horlicks and Bournvita.

Also, a final word of advice for Maggi. While making videos, try not to kill us with schmaltz. Showing your target audience as boys who speak to themselves and have an emotional relationship with instant noodles, makes us wonder whether a side effect of Maggi is not lead poisoning, but delusional and neurotic behaviour. No sane person is this attached to instant noodles.

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Updated Date: Sep 11, 2015 14:49:37 IST