Amul ice-cream controversy: Sodhi uploads video, hits back to protect brand

A video accusing the brand of falsely claiming to be a vegetarian product has spread like wildfire
For a few days now, Brand Amul has been under attack on social media with its ice-creams being accused of using animal fat.  The ice-cream that claims to be purely vegetarian, its trolls alleged, was not being true to its consumers. The allegations hurled by a few individuals, at first, soon stirred up a verbal maelstrom and threatened to throw the brand off kilter. 

The company responded strongly and quickly and instead of relying only on press releases and public declarations, it uploaded a video of the managing director R S Sodhi denying the allegations and denouncing the trolls. It also had the Amul girl delivering, rather uncharacteristically, a straightforward message reiterating the brand’s vegetarian identity.

This is not the first time Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF) that owns brand Amul has chosen an unconventional method to protect its brand. About two years back a similar message (that claimed that the emulsifiers used in Amul products like ice-cream are sourced from animal sources) was doing the rounds on WhatsApp, R S Sodhi, managing director of GCMMF recollects. “At that time we had created WhatsApp messages that clarified that our products were purely vegetarian,” he adds. 

On September 5, Amul released a detailed note on its website that certified its use of vegetarian ingredients and added certificates from the supplier of the E-471 emulsifier that the video mentioned. “Through search engine optimisation and marketing, we ensured customers were able to read our rejoinder on our website when they searched for E-471 or Amul Ice Cream,” Sodhi said. 

Why did Sodhi feel the need to go on the video? Should they have used a more famous face to stand up for the brand? Sandeep Goyal, founder of Mogae Media says, “I have no view on the controversy, nor do I care what emulsifier their koolfi contains. But how come Amul could not come out with a more tongue-in-cheek message on its hoarding when faced with allegations and criticism?” He believes that the brand’s communication was different from the persona that it has built over the years. “It is easy to poke fun at others, but a different story when it is you that is in trouble,” he adds.

Sodhi says, “The fake video in circulation looks staged and hence motivated. We felt that we needed to counter that through an intense campaign on social media.” As for not using a funny repartee from the Amul girl, he says, “It is a serious issue, so we did not want to trivialise it by making a funny topical.” 

Main (I am) 100% vegetarian hoon!” says the Amul girl on Twitter. And in the video, apart from re-affirming that the emulsifier’s vegetarian origins, Sodhi adds another message. The 3.6 million farmers who own Amul would never cheat consumers. “Amul’s money does not go out of the country, it goes to poor farmers, and poor farmers don’t lie,” Sodhi says, perhaps hoping to turn the crisis into an opportunity to reiterate the brand’s nationalist colours. 

Battling it out

Brands duel with rumours in a variety of ways, sometimes felling them with quick responses and at times, fuelling them further by staying silent.

Amul ice cream- 2018

Accused of using animal fat in some of its ice-cream flavours and thus lying about being a pure vegetarian product. The company uploaded a video by managing director R S Sodhi, denying the allegations. It also used popular mascot, the Amul girl, to convey the same message.

Aashirvaad flour- 2018

ITC was accused of using plastic in Aashirvaad. The company was quick to launch a campaign countering the allegations, it also lodged police complaints in three cities and garnered industry support to stop the spread of such videos.

Lipton tea- 2016

A consumer posted a video that claimed to show that there were worms in Lipton Lemon Green Tea bags. The company immediately posted a video with its side of the story. These were not worms, but flavour pieces that were meant to dissolve in hot water, its spokesperson said in the video.

Maggi - 2015

Officials in Food & Drugs Administration in Uttar Pradesh declared that Nestle India’s Maggi samples had the banned substance monosodium glutamate (MSG). 

The company was slow to respond and that led to the crisis snowballing into a ban on Maggi that lasted close to two years. Maggi has since returned to the shelves, but its story has changed the way brands respond to crises in the country. 

Pepsi/Coke-  2006

The environmental group, Centre for Science & Environment alleged that Pepsi and Coca-Cola contained 24 times higher than permitted pesticides levels.  A ban was imposed in most of the states in India. Both brands challenged CSE’s findings and released ads countering the allegations.

Cadbury - 2003

Worms were allegedly found in Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate bars in Maharashtra and then, in other states. The company launched a massive damage control campaign with Amitabh Bachchan as brand ambassador.