It is interesting to see how quickly brands wilt under pressure. And how quickly they lose their sense of humour.
Amul has been getting bashed up in social media for the past few days because there have been rumours that Amul’s Pista Malai Koolfi has been using an emulsifier derived from the intestine of a pig. The controversy revolves around the E471 which globally comes from animal sources, but which Amul claims is in their case pure vegetarian.
For the record, the Amul Pista Malai Koolfi has an inner ice-cream layer (68 per cent by mass) which is made up of milk solids, permitted emulsifiers (E435 & E471) and stabilizers (E407 & E412) and an outer coating layer (32 per cent by mass) made up of milk solids, pistachio pieces and permitted emulsifier (E322).
It is emulsifier E471 that is causing Amul all the angst, prompting managing director RS Sodhi to actually cut a 2-minute video disclaimer, and for Amul to run ads in The Times of India, and put up a very bland, ‘Main 100 per cent vegetarian hoon’ hoarding.
I have no view on the controversy, nor do I care what emulsifier their koolfi contains. But what I found funny is that Amul that has for 50 years had the Amul girl commenting on anything and everything, has poked fun at and parodied every happening, every event and every controversy, suddenly lost its usual (and signature) sense of humour when the knife suddenly faced its own brand.
How come Amul could not come out with a more tongue-in-cheek message on its hoarding when itself faced with allegations and criticism? How come da Cunha, their ad agency, could not devise a creative enough message to diffuse the slightly heated social media situation? The Amul hoarding is plain manufacturer speak. Matter-of-fact. Defensive. Scared. Sans any humour.
Moral of the story: it is easy to poke fun at others. It is a different story all together when it is you that is in trouble.
The Amul MD also comes across in poor light in the video. He makes unsubstantiated (and somewhat wild) allegations against ‘big corporates’ indulging in the smear campaign against Amul because it is No. 1 in ice-creams (and milk). Sitting strategically in front of Verghese Kurien’s picture on the wall, he surely doesn’t make a pretty picture with those utterances! It is well known that last year Hindustan Unilever (HUL) took GCCMF, the owners of Amul, to Bombay High Court to try and get a restraint order against the Amul ice-creams TV ad that claimed its own products were made from ‘real milk’ while denigrating competitors’ ‘frozen desserts’ for being made from ‘vegetable oils’. HUL was joined by Vadilal in the case.
What is really intriguing is that while the Amul Pista Koolfi has got into trouble because of the E471 emulsifier, its wrapper/label also apparently mentions that it contains ‘edible oil’ … but does not elaborate on which edible vegetable oil has been used in the koolfi. Reasons for that are not far to seek. Certain vegetable oils contain very large amounts of biologically active fats called Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which could be harmful in excess. Excess polyunsaturated fats can react with oxygen and oxidised Omega-6 fats and can damage body functions and perhaps even vital structures like DNA. That notwithstanding, just the usage of edible oils in itself runs counter to the Amul claim of ‘real milk’.
To be fair, to verify this bit on edible oils in Amul ice-creams, I tried to buy an Amul Pista Malai Koolfi. But none was available in my neighbourhood in Worli, nor in any other parts of Mumbai and Delhi where I called family and friends to help me locate the product. The product is obviously off shelves because of the controversy. So I have personally not been able to check if the koolfi under reference actually mentions ‘edible oils’ on its wrapper or not.
Back to Amul’s communication while under attack. Well totally absent is the teasing, the lampooning, the fun, so characteristic of their outdoors. Amul’s newest hoarding, for once, is completely devoid of humour. Obviously Amul doesn’t find a reason to smile when its own brand is in the hot seat. Which in a way is really sad. When you have spent so much time and effort, over 5 decades, in giving your brand (and its communication) a style and an attitude, a small controversy in social media should not rattle you so much as to get you to forget what your brand stands for. Unless, of course, if you actually do have something to hide. Which is then another story altogether.
C’mon Amul, I thought you guys were made of sterner stuff!
Dr. Sandeep Goyal blogs on a wide variety of subjects. Brands clouded by controversy always blip his radar.