Bournvita controversy: Did the Mondelez-owned brand fail to handle the deinfluencing viral video?

Experts note that shutting down a dissenting voice is the last thing companies should do in the age of the internet. Often, these voices cause a ripple effect where more and more users could pick on the brand and cancel it.

By  Saumya TewariApr 17, 2023 6:01 PM
Bournvita controversy: Did the Mondelez-owned brand fail to handle the deinfluencing viral video?
Mondelez India sprang into action and was quick to post a detailed clarification that the brand has only permissible and safe limits (every serve of Bournvita has 7.5 gm of added sugar, which is approximately one and a half teaspoons) of sugar content. (Stills from the tweets)

Mondelez-owned brand Bournvita's brand line is 'Tayyari Jeet Ki'. But the brand, it seems, has failed in its tayyari to handle a recent brand crisis. Revant Himatsingka, a health and nutrition Influencer, known publicly as Foodpharmer uploaded a video on Instagram talking about the high level of sugar content present in malt based drink brand Bournvita. In the video, the influencer holds the Bournvita packet and breaks down all the good and bad ingredients in the product.

Mondelez India sprang into action and was quick to post a detailed clarification that the brand has only permissible and safe limits (every serve of Bournvita has 7.5 gm of added sugar, which is approximately one and a half teaspoons) of sugar content.

The company also served the influencer a legal notice after which Himatsingka has removed the video and issued an apology, clarifying that there was no intention of infringing upon the trademark

“I have decided to take down the video across all platforms after receiving a legal notice from one of India’s biggest law-firms on 13th April, 2023. I apologize to Cadbury for making the video. I did not plan or intend to infringe any trademark or defame any company nor do I have interest or resources to participate in any court cases and I request MNCs to not take this forward legally,” Himatsingka wrote in an Instagram post.

Himatsinka describes himself as a “Certified Health Coach who also has a MBA degree from Wharton”.

However, the damage to the brand has already been done since the post has been viewed millions of times across platforms.

Shutting dissent

Advertising and branding experts note that using power to shut a dissenting voice is the last thing companies should do in the age of the internet. Often, these voices cause a ripple effect where more and more users could pick on the brand and cancel it.

For instance, Dr Abby Philips, known as @theliverdr on Twitter also took up the issue to give his two cents. In a Twitter post, Philips writes.

“If you know sugar is the new alcohol, and protein is the building block of muscle and immunity, then you'll know how you have been taken for a ride, at least now: Bournvita 100g contain 37g of sugar (sucrose) 100g contain 7g of protein,” he tweeted.

He also called out other malt-based drinks including Complan, Boost, Horlicks and Ensure Protein. Dr Abby is a trained Hepatologist and Clinician-Scientist working at The Liver Institute, Rajagiri Hospital, Kerala. Netizens are now calling out Bournvita for shutting down a voice and using #BoycottBournvita.

Naresh Gupta, co-founder and chief strategy officer, Bang In The Middle believes that Mondelez has messed up the whole situation. According to him, the legal notice is self-defeating, and while the blogger may have deleted the video, the video is there on the web and more people are now watching it.

“Mondelez first responded with a post on Instagram where they switched off the comments, that was their first bit of trying to control the narrative. Then they did the legal notice and in the post reached everyone. I am not sure if the legal notice should have been ever considered,” he adds.

Transparency and accountability

Gupta says that in the past similar controversies have happened. For instance, when the world started to speak about sugar in Coke, they did a commercial asking people to be careful on how much they consumed. It got them responses from both sides, but they moved on. “I don’t believe that brands should shut down a dissenting voice. I would have liked Mondelez to invite the food blogger for a conversation and push that video across every platform. They would have kept their side and truth of claims in black and white. They would have also gained in reputation and trust,” he explains. Brand strategy expert and founder of Harish Bijoor Consults Inc, Harish Bijoor thinks that Bournvita's response comes as a clarification. It clearly calls out what is permitted and that children can afford an intake of 1.5 tsps of sugar.

“Now this legal notice to the influencer is surely a notice that lands after the brand-harm has been done. I do believe this is more to ensure no more of such social media videos appear. More of a pre-emptive action for the future,” he notes.

To be sure, this is not the first Mondelez India landed in trouble. In 2003, the company chocolate brand Cadbury found itself in the eye of a storm, when a few instances of worms in its Dairy Milk bars were reported in Maharashtra. In less than two weeks, the company launched a PR campaign for the trade. And three months later, came an ad campaign featuring Amitabh Bachchan and a revamped poly-flow packaging.

However, much has changed since then. Mondelez is now looking for a larger scale dissemination of information regarding its brand Bournvita. Although, the influencer has deleted the video but it is circulating at a rapid pace across social media further damaging its reputation. The company has to do more than just a social media post to get through the controversy.

Responding to Storyboard18's queries around the viral video, Bournvita India says in a statement that the brand is concerned by a recent unscientific video on social media that went abnormally viral, distorted facts and made false and negative inferences about Bournvita's safety and efficacy.

"The Presenter’s comments are not based on science and were designed to drive anxiety and fear among our loyal consumers by misrepresenting the facts and omitting factually correct information to sensationalize his view," the statement read.

Bournvita claims that the video has created panic and anxiety and questions the trust that consumers have bestowed on brands like Bournvita.

"As we continued to witness an abnormal and unusual amount of traction on the post, we were constrained to take legal recourse to avoid misinformation. We also issued a statement to clarify and share the correct facts to allay the concerns of our consumers. We would like to clarify that we had no play in actions around the presenter’s Twitter account," the statement further read. The brand emphasized that the formulation has been scientifically crafted by a team of nutritionists and food scientists to offer the best of taste and health.

"All our claims are verified and transparent and all ingredients have regulatory approvals. All the necessary nutritional information is mentioned on the pack for consumers to make informed choices," it adds.

Bournvita is also urging customers to examine these facts and reach out to the brand directly.

First Published on Apr 17, 2023 3:58 PM

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