Blue Band is probably Nigeria's most beloved and favourite home grown margarine. It has earned its pride of place with those memorable commercials since the 70s and its sponsorship of national TV sitcoms, Blue Band margarine won our childish hearts for all time. Thanks to NTA Benin. Some of us took time to spread it on bread and with delight demonstrated how it was eaten mimicking our child-peers in the adverts. Just like the 30 million Nigerians that watched NTA News at that time, Blue Band could not be wrong.
Yet when the makers of Blue Band margarine decided to bring a new variant of the product that had a mark of easy spread on bread, some mischief makers attempted to puncture the reputation of the brand by posting a video of how the margarine didn't melt in boiling water even though it wasn't verified.
The bad marketing video against the margarine brand spread like wild fire on the internet. And please, based on the principle of criminal defamation, any person in Nigeria can actually be arrested and prosecuted for intentional damage to the reputation of a corporate interest. But Unilever, the owners of the brand at that time did not go after the mischief makers who were trying to run down their new product. Despite having the resources to track down the cyber goons, the company deployed a tactic that remains a marvelous example of how to respond to negative campaigns against a company's product.
The company simply deployed one of its expatriates (probably its Managing Director) who explained in the media how the new variant of the margarine had less cholesterol, packed with more vitamins and how, whatever reaction it has in boiling water was normal and in the healthy interest of the consumer. It also emphasized that the new variant was better for bread while the regular one was best for making cakes and other pastries. This position was corroborated by other experts including the regulator, NAFDAC.
So rather than losing customers, confidence in the product was not only restored, it’s sales have continued on the increase to date. In fact, for me, there is always a container of Blue Band in my home and office on account of my confidence and loyalty to the brand.
The recent reaction of ERISCO to the negative commentary on its Nagiko tinned tomatoes brand was woeful. The company deployed its resources, pounced on the Nigerian woman who published her assessment of their product, got the police to arrest her and moved her to Abuja to face prosecution. The somewhat angry Managing Director of the tinned tomatoes company went further on the media to issue threats of fire and brimstone against the woman promising to punish her with a lawsuit of 5 Billion Naira. Even after causing her arrest and detention. What a disastrous corporate response!
Many Nigerians who didn't know that tinned tomatoes usually contained some safe amount of sugar, have now known and they are united in sympathy for the woman against the product. In fact they now generally suspect all tinned tomatoes products as having too much sugar and colouring. Unfortunately for the company, its threat against the woman is not only hollow because it was within her right to publish that her fair assessment of the product. She is even in a position to sue the Nigeria police and the Erisco company for damages running into millions of Naira. I trust Inibehe Effiong to properly guide her.
Babatunde Irukera of Federal Competition & Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) has never disappointed in his role as the chief consumer protector in Nigeria. His position on the matter has been quite commendable.
The crux of this writing is to show how important a strategic public relations response can help a company and its products especially in times of crisis of negative campaigns.
The Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) must continue to emphasize the importance of having certified public relations practitioners for government and private institutions in their own interests. The recent PR blunders by the President Tinubu's spokesman who is not a professional public relations manager attests to the reason why the NIPR Act prohibits the practice of Public Relations without certification.
ERISCO may have money but it has missed surely the road of good public relations in its own interests.