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(Editorial) Consumer Empowerment: Unveiling the Impact of Reviews on Brands

Should consumers possess the autonomy to review and publicly share their experiences with a purchased product? What are the boundaries of consumer rights, and how do these rights intersect with the evolving landscape of brand perception?

Consumer rights encompass the safeguarding and advocacy of consumer interests. As per the Nigerian constitution, a consumer is defined as any individual purchasing or expressing intent to purchase goods, products, or commodities for consumption, extending to those receiving services. The recently enacted Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act of 2019 (FCCP Act) in Nigeria delineates numerous provisions concerning consumer rights.

In Nigeria, consumers are entitled to various rights under the FCCP Act, including the right to receive information in clear and understandable language, the right to disclosure of prices for goods and services, the right to accurate trade descriptions and product labeling, and the right to reject goods that do not correspond with samples and descriptions. Additionally, consumers have the right to be informed about every transaction, protection against misleading information, and the right to quality service and safe goods.

Kim Klemen, Editor-in-Chief of Consumer Reports, and Christine Frietchen, Editor-in-Chief of Consumersearch.com in the United States, shed light on the significance of consumer reviews. Frietchen emphasizes the importance of balanced reviews, particularly valuing opinions from individuals who express mixed feelings about a product, as it enhances credibility.

A striking revelation is that the average American consumer tends to read around 10 reviews before placing trust in a business.

Moving beyond the legal framework, the narrative shifts to the culinary world, specifically focusing on tomato puree and tomato paste. Tomato puree, a blended form of tomatoes, offers a milder taste reminiscent of fresh tomatoes. On the other hand, tomato paste is concentrated, providing a sweeter and richer flavor. Although both are indispensable ingredients, their distinctions lie in their production methods and culinary applications.

In essence, this story explores the multifaceted aspects of consumer rights, delving into the legal landscape in Nigeria and the impact of consumer reviews on brand perception. It also takes a culinary detour, elucidating the nuances between tomato puree and tomato paste in the realm of gastronomy.

The Erisco Fiasco

In September, 2023 a consumer, Chioma Egodi, on her Facebook account reviewed a Nigerian tomato paste brand, Erisco Nagiko. Her experience of the product wasn’t favourable, hence, her review was negative.

She stated she didn’t like the taste as it was too sugary. Her opinion did not go down well with the makers of Erisco Nagiko Mix and they did the unthinkable in brands management.

Erisco Foods Limited issued a poorly written press statement that many Public Relations practitioners agreed was also not well-written. The statement had petty comments such as “instigated by some elements and syndicates”, professional PR people don’t write this way because it is too pedestrian and uncouth.

The statement continued with unverified phrases such as “who are uncomfortable with our increasing market dominance as a leading indigenous manufacturer of 100% natural tomato paste.” This statement is unverified hence the need for Brandfit to conduct an awareness and perception assessment (result of research below). The press statement was too emotional and unfit to represent any brand.

The company, Erisco, went to the police and got the consumer arrested for the crime of given a product review.

After arresting the young lady, the police transferred her to Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory. There it was alleged that she was “influenced” somehow to write and sign a handwritten letter apologizing to the company for reviewing their product unfavourably. At that moment the phrase, “the consumer is king” died.

On an Arise TV interview the spokesperson of Erisco Foods Limited, who is obviously not a Public Relations person made the following statement below.

The Public Outcry

The public were not left out of the discuss as many felt it could be anyone of them tomorrow being locked up and harassed for reviewing any product they bought. Social media was drowned with public fury as people called for the release of the detained consumer.

Some commentaries compared the manner at which other brands managed their crisis with many mentioning Dufil Prima Foods Indomie Noodles 2023 contamination crisis and previous ones commending how their Public Relations consultant, BDC Communications, effortlessly managed the crisis to the extent that Indomie’s sales increased rather than decreased during the period.

Benefitting from the Crisis; the Wise Competition

Reminiscent of the extremely successful, “Three Orange Men” by Mirinda orange drink, where the brands communication was too effective that the consumer demand outstretched the supply for the product.

Distribution of the product could not meet the market demand so the consumers started requesting for alternative orange drinks such as Fanta Orange.

Although not well-exploited in this case, another tomato brand, Tomato Stew, capitalized on the crisis and the bad management of it to put out some soft-communication exploiting the loopholes.

The Regulator

Erisco Foods Could Be Sued for Customer Arrest… the Company was ill advised and it’s expected they should have a retinue of professionals such as PR practitioners – Babatunde Irukera, Executive Vice-Chairman/CEO, the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC).

The regulator, FCCPC, stepped in to secure the release of the consumer and summon Erisco for briefing on the issue. The regulator did not mince words with its disapproval of the methods used by the company to manage the crisis.

Opinion of some Marketing Communications, and Public Relations practitioners on the Erisco saga:

According to Adetokunbo Akomolafe based in Lagos   

I do not know the state the consumer is but if she is in Lagos, next time, she should visit Lagos State Consumer Protection Agency (LASCOPA) at 2B, Soji Adepegba Close, Allen Avenue, Ikeja, Lagos. 07038402828 is their phone number. Your rights as a consumer, they will ensure, are protected in Lagos State.

LASCOPA stood by me and ensured that my right as a consumer was protected when I reported a company to them regarding a product that was already bad at the point of purchase. If drunk, it would have resulted in food poisoning. Although, I did not escalate the issue online so as not to damage the reputation of the brand because it is an organisation that I truly respect.

The issue was settled amicably under best practices in the Agency sometime this year in a panel set up and chaired by Mr. Afolabi Solebo where I and the representatives of the company were seated. My move was to protect not only myself but other consumers, and of course, the reputation of the company. And it was achieved because, immediately, the company improved the container of that new product for the safety of all.

What Erisco Food Company has done to you, is what you should be doing to them now through LASCOPA.

According to Warren Buffet, “It takes about 25 years to build a good name, brand, and reputation, but 5 minutes of reckless action to destroy it all.” Therefore, the roles of Customer Service; and Public Relations are crucial in every organisation as issues raised by consumers must never be personalized; they must be handled and resolved professionally.

Every consumer has a right to complain either about poor services rendered by a company or concerning a product that is bad and what it should do is to first show appreciation and respect to the consumer who has bought their product(s), apologize for the bad experience, then investigate the matter.

The outcome of the investigation will determine whether to do a rejoinder apologizing again to the customer and then promising the general public that the error will not recur and that they should continue to trust their products. But if it is the consumer who has intentionally misled the public, then, he/she has to go open to correct it and apologize to the company. And if proven guilty of a deliberate attempt to tarnish the reputation of the company, then, legal action must be taken against such a consumer.

On his part, Godfrey Adejumoh, another Public Relations practitioner, said:

Just few things on my mind that we should think through

1. You can run a successful business without the support of our industry – mostly PR.

2. We should rethink how we can be of strategic and integral value to businesses who are already successful without our support or have the tendency to be successful without our influence.

Think of the transport businesses in Benin that were successful then and still successful now without the input of our industry especially back then – Ohonba line, Edegbe Line … there are more and some are perhaps not in operations now or have their operations reduced

There are so many Nigerian businesses that are doing so well without the input of our industry.

Let’s not limit our industry and how we can support businesses to crisis management, media relations….

We should ask ourselves questions concerning their core of the core operations. Business is about profitability, we come from the none commercial lens mostly but not necessarily. We need to have a fusion of how we accommodate that profitability with purpose. Without profitability, no one will be in business to think of managing their reputation.

I don’t have answers to the things I have raised myself, but I am thinking through it.

Erisco, will suffer some impact as a result of this, but they are likely to survive and keep going. Their survival might not be a function of getting it right in terms of reputation management, it will be just the usual Nigerian thing of we move on after a while and the issue is never addressed.

As practioners of this discipline, we need to dig deeper and do some questioning of how we can be invaluable to organizations irrespective of their size, structure, management style…..

I am one person that’s quick to admit that if two people should start a career same day in the same organization and at the same work level, with one being a comms person and the other being a marketier or a  finance resource. If both of them maintain same level of performance over a period of time and one is to be chosen as a CEO of the company, the chances of the comms person is either very low or not on the table at all.

The reason for this is not because the comms people cannot do the job but because he or she hasn’t positioned for the role by way of strategic relevance to the organization. I advocate that comms people should start to take deliberate interest in everything about the organization they work. Depending on the size and diversity of the organization’s operations try and know beyond your immediate space.

You will never be an expert in all things, but having an idea of what the business is about in and out, and you bringing that to play in how you provide advisory, initiatives to the business will position the comms person beyond the traditional perception of who a comms person is and their role in the organization.

I might have digressed and gone off key in my views and I ask that you kindly pardon me for this. I am leaning not to be carried away by the things of the moments that make people to be reactive than strategic.

Our role is that of strategy to make invaluable impact to organizations.

Erisco might be impacted, but will likely survive and move on. Also to mention, that the owners of the business don’t understand the place of strategic reputation management, doesn’t mean they are not good at what they do. I think they are very good for them to have built such a business over time. They however need to do better in managing their reputation. That’s where they need everyone here. For those who can, please start to pitch for their business not for crisis management, but for strategic business support and advisory to make them stand the test of time.

Perception Audit of the Tomato Paste Market Conducted by Brandfit

An online survey was done to determine the awareness and perception level of the Erisco Nagiko brand.

An advisory from the Brandfit Team on how Erisco Foods Limited should have responded and benefited from the crisis.

Pre-crisis

  1. Hire a professional PR practitioner, emphasis is on “professional” (NIPR certified)
  2. Develop an SOP in the case where a trained PR professional is not employed

During crisis

  • Born Againize the consumer engaging her, listen to her, give her several products from the brand to try out and solicit her feedback. Invite her for a factory visit (all these with the agreement she pulls down the negative post).
  • Make her an unique brand ambassador (look for a title for her) and she will post all her new experience of the brand on her page.
  • Meeting with the CEO/ Founder of Erisco Foods Limited.

Post-crisis – if the above advisories are done the situation would have ended as an issue and not graduate into a crisis category.

  • Consumerit – this will be a social media video contest with consumers preparing different menus with Erisco Nagiko or any other company brand and after tasting the cooked food suggest to the company what they think would make the product better.
  • Erisco Street Kitchen – street cooking contest at select locations and televised.
  • Features to tell the brand story in a very connective and persuasive manner.

Just as the former Military Head of State of Uganda, Idi Amin, said, “there is freedom of speech, but I cannot guarantee freedom after speech.”

Editorial written by the Brandfit PR & Events Team

Published on www.brandfit.com.ng

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