Most of us grew up on Maggi Noodles. We have many fond memories associated with it. In childhood, it was cold, comforting and in tiffin boxes. In boarding school, it was floating in spicy chilli garlic paste and was made in an improvised hot water from the tap way, not to mention eaten slyly without the feared House parent noticing. Now it is dinner after a long day at work, when your brain has been omleteered by the nitty gritties of commas..
In the late nineties, something very frustrating happened. Maggi Noodles had what they thought was a bright idea and changed flavours. My beloved Maggi Masala Noodles didn't taste the same for the next few years and I wondered why they would commit such a marketing disaster.
I was, even by then, used to brands responding with eager quickness to customer tastes and problems.
I am reading a book called Niche by social forecaster James Harkin. Largely, it talks about how our appetite for broad concepts (Super market, a "family movie" ) has vanished. How in this world, we cannot be all things to all people.
So, coming back to the question of Maggi and how it didn't respond to consumer needs, it makes me realise how our habits are always under scrutiny by larger forces. Data companies now have systems that process complex data about how we eat, think, shop and behave . One such system in the UK is Mosaic which maps people street by street house by house twice a year. At the end , it takes 21 million bits of data and divides it into 155 kind of people, 67 household types and 15 social categories.
This helps political parties and companies understand the way we think and the way we buy and in turn they respond with their marketing / election strategies to lubricate the course of consumerism.
Coming back to Maggi Noodles, in the early 2000s I think, the packet said 'Your favourite is back' and I jumped. Those long forgotten Maggi Masala tastes of my childhood were finally available again. I despised Maggi for having such a bad marketing department, one that took years to get rid of a flavour that no one likes. I expected them, in other words, at the age of 14 to have surveyed our private instant noodle eating habits.
And yet, it is disturbing this idea. A store like Westside entered India in the early 2000s. They had an audience in mind- women looking for practical, generic clothes. They had the typical 'ethnic' prints on Kurtas with a neckline sized spot of originality. They had plain Tshirts that every girl who had too much self respect to wear bling would buy. But now, the practical generic idea is a Westside person.
The definition deletes all the nuances the idea originally began with. Tide, the detergent in the UK has many many versions that play on ideas of Freshness, April, Spring, Clean etc. They are all essentially the same product dealing with the "image" of what people want to be.
The image, one feels, dominates everything in a world where you can manufacture it, and you are also encouraged to by buying a product that is associated with an image.
It is really a world of smoke and mirrors where it is impossible to separate image from substance.
I wonder sometimes with great fear indeed if politicians too are just images. Obama wrote a speech . ...aaaah next time but they are nooo
PS: there are soooo many ways to make Maggi. Most recent twist is to dunk in fresh parsley, coriander, chilli flakers and crushed garlic in the end.