Ban May Help Maggi Reclaim Identity

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Maggi is going through turbulent times. It’s being churned on the sea of controversy with some saying the lead and MSG levels are within permissible limits, while the others deny it. And as the tug of war continues, this most loved food brand which became a phenome that connected millions of people, has entered the endangered zone nearing extinction.

The brand, which was a household name, now remains only a ghostly shadow of its glorious past – an enigma that many today shy away from associating. There is no doubt that what happened with Maggi did no good to its parent brand Nestle, but there is indeed a silver lining to it (or is it my love for Maggi that makes me delusional?).

Every trademark and brand name goes through a series of phases:

During the growth phase of a trademark, at times a brand may have to reinvent its trademark identity once it becomes generic.

During the growth phase of a trademark, at times a brand may have to reinvent its trademark identity once it becomes generic.

Thermos, Xerox & Maggi – A league of generics

Broadly speaking, almost every trademark passes through these stages. In simple language, every trademark is expected to pass through these stages. Let’s take for instance the one important household product called the thermos. Come winter, come cough and cold, and this flask jumps out of the cupboard onto the kitchen table, holding within it a hot liquid. But did you know that Thermos GmbH is actually a company that launched the hot flask? The product became a runaway success globally, and the brand name became associated with every flask manufactured by anybody and everybody around the world.

However, the line between being well-known and being generic is very thin and companies need to be very careful in order to make sure that their trademarks do not become generic. Sadly, thermos became a household name and every other product capable of keeping liquids hot/cold was being referred to as a ‘Thermos’, thus making the trademark generic.

It was a similar story with Xerox too where the brand name became a synonym for photocopying. It became a huge problem for Xerox that the company launched a marketing campaign stating: “If you start using Xerox as Aspirin, it will give us headaches”.

Same is the case with Maggi. Until the ban order was issued, even shopkeepers referred to every noodle brand as Maggi. I remember visiting a shop in Delhi to purchase a packet of noodles. The shopkeeper unassumingly asked me: “Which maggi do you want? The red packet, green packet or yellow packet?” While he was referring to Maggi and its competitors that come in different colored packets, just the fact that he associated every instant noodle with Maggie goes to show the brand’s percolation in the socio-economic stream.

What is a Generic Trademark

The problem of generic trademark often affects several businesses. Let’s take an example to understand this. Imagine your name to be John Doe. In a class of 100 students if you are the ONLY John Doe, you have a unique identity that everyone remembers. Now, if there are 10 John Does in the class, that leads to a level of confusion and each of the John Does will be assigned a form of recognition – “the spectacled one”, “the one with a mole”, “the crazy John Doe”, etc.

Same is the case with a generic trademark; no one person can claim exclusivity over such a trademark. Moreover, the level of confusion among users becomes so large that granting exclusivity is not possible.

In the light of recent events, everyone is wary of being associated with Maggi. Shopkeepers and retailers have consciously stopped referring to the other instant noodles in the market as maggi fearing loss of customers and official inquiries if reported.

However, if Maggi comes out of this soup (which I sincerely hope it does), it will come as a blessing in disguise. Considering the peachy pall that this controversy has thrown over it, it will regain its branding as people will begin associating Maggi for its brand name and not as a generic trademark term.

(Featured image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:We_miss_you,_Maggi!!.jpg)

Akshay Sangwan
Akshay Sangwan

Talk Trademarks and you are sure to find an interesting insight from this ace legal professional. An IPR specialist, Akshay traces his shooting and angling skills towards assessing trends in the world of Brand Image Management.


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