Friday, January 09, 2009

Top Ramen : Its not Noodles, Its Smoodles

Brand : Top Ramen
Company : Indo Nissin
Agency : Dentsu

Brand Analysis Count : 370

Top Ramen is the second largest Noodles brand in India trying hard for the past 18 years to beat Maggi Noodles. Top Ramen is a global brand from Nissin. Launched in 1991, Top Ramen has been trying all possible marketing tool to dethrone Maggi.

As a hardcore Noodles fan, I remember trying out this brands on two occasions. First occasion was when the brand was launched. The brand quickly went into limelight with its famous positioning as Smoodles. I guess that Smoodles means Smooth Noodles . But after the initial trying,I went back to Maggi noodles.

The next occasion was when Maggi changed the taste. That was an occasion where, as a brand loyalist , I dumped Maggi . For a while I bought Top Ramen . Then when Maggi reversed the taste, I switched back....

Top Ramen at that point of time was one of the heavy advertisers in the media. And since the taste was also comparable , many Maggi users may have switched to this brand. But it could not retain the customers like me. One factor is the price. Top Ramen was always perceived as a premium brand compared to the affordable Maggi. ( Its my perception since I don't exactly remember the price difference ). The high price may have prompted many Maggi users to switch back .

Another factor was the promotion. Top Ramen could not sustain the share of mind it generated during the formative years. Maggi was able to bring in lot of noise because it had become an umbrella brand and was advertising for various other products .

Top Ramen had an interesting distribution strategy . For the past 10 years, the brand has been distributed by Marico. It is a case of marketing alliance where Top Ramen was utilizing the distribution strength of Marico. In 2008, the alliance was mutually called-off . Now Nissin is building its own distribution network.

It is puzzling to see that a global brand with lot of support from its parent could not put up a big fight with Maggi .The major issue faced by Top Ramen was the differentiation. Top Ramen could not offer any serious differentiation to Maggi either in terms of the product or brand. Since there was no serious differentiation, Maggi was able to gain back the lost ground because it was the pioneer brand who built the category. Top Ramen also lost out when Maggi repositioned itself in the health platform.

Having said that, Top Ramen had its share of innovations. This brand is credited with innovating a new category of cup-noodles in Indian market. The difference between cup noodles and instant noodles is that cup-noodles need not be cooked, it is ready to eat just after adding hot water into it.
Top Ramen currently holds more than 90 % share in the cup-noodles market. Maggi has recently entered the cup-noodles market with its brand Cuppa- Mania. It is expected that the entry of new players will expand the category.

Unlike instant noodles where the brands are targeting kids, Cup-Noodles is targeting adults. The segment aimed by Top-Ramen is 16-35 .

Top Ramen is also credited with the launch of curry-noodles in India. While ordinary noodles are dry, curry noodles have both gravy. Top Ramen to me is heavily associated with Curry Noodles. and that is one of the reasons why I did not buy the brand ( i hated the curry variant).

So the brand has not been remaining dormant. It has been doing the right things in the market but somehow the brand is not able to manage the perception among the consumers. It is in the promotion front that Top Ramen has failed to make an impact.

When Maggi repositioned itself as a healthy food, Top Ramen should have followed suit since the market was moving towards healthy foods. When Maggi launched its rice noodles, Top Ramen should have followed since it could have added value to the brand.

Except for the first phase of brand promotion, Top Ramen did not have any worthwhile campaign in its 18 years of existence. Hence as a customer, the brand is not giving me enough reasons to change my addiction to Maggi brand. Even it is not giving enough reasons for kids to buy this brand.

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Update : Marketing Practice reader ' Outspoken ' that in 1999 Shah Rukh Khan endorsed Top Ramen Curry Noodles. But that campaign has long been forgotten.