Mamee noodle boss: 'We ride on key trends. We don't try to create new ones'

Mamee is a brand that has been around for 50 years. The brand, which currently exports to 80 countries and has a yearly turnover of RM1 billion, has an evergreen vision of creating "Asia’s most exciting and diverse snacking experience”. However, creating an exciting snacking experience does not come easy.

According to Pierre Pang, group executive director for Mamee Double Decker Malaysia, the snacking industry is one which has evolved drastically with Millennials and Gen Z customers now not just feasting for their stomachs alone, but also for their social feeds. While in the past Mamee was a brand focused on children under the age of 12, today its target audience is largely 18 to 29-year-old. This required Mamee to overhaul and transform its marketing and communication strategy to engage with a younger audience. But how could a 50-year-old household brand go about reinventing itself? Well, by breaking all the rules, said Pang during MARKETING-INTERACTIVE's Content 360 virtual conference.

In 2019, Mamee decided to launch the “Monster in Black” campaign where Pang said: “We threw [out] everything we knew about marketing from university, and embarked on something totally different." The first food product marketing rule the Mamee team decided to break was the idea that the product always had to look tasty and desirable to entice the consumer. Instead, Mamee created black noodles which were then sprayed with a brown coloured, ultra-spicy seasoning, further breaking the general rule of product being visually attractive and tasty.

The second rule that the team broke was when it decided that it wasn’t going to share information about a new flavor on its packaging, piquing the curiosity of its buyers. To push the mystery factor further, the brand added a stamp on its packaging with a warning “Not recommended to be consumed by children”, going against what Pang deems the best practices of marketing by alienating its biggest consumer base and telling consumers that the product isn’t for them.

Thirdly, the team made it incredibly hard for consumers to find the product. While snacks should ideally be easy to find, in this campaign, the team decided that only 30% of the family multipacks would have this product,  luring consumers to “hunt” for the product. “The fear of missing out is real,” Pang said, adding that this is now an element the team considers for all its campaigns.

When asked how Pang managed to convince stakeholders to break the rules, he said,

We are a 50 year old family business. We have learnt it is better to beg for forgiveness rather than ask for permission.  Be bold and hopefully, your element of surprise will be a positive one.

With the “Monster in Black” campaign, Pang said, the team wanted to tackle the need of self of belonging and esteem of consumers. This, it identified, was the main driving force behind why its target audience purchased. The Monster in Black campaign was the first time the brand moved away from its typical flavor pallets of BBQ and chicken.

What triggered the need for change? 

“In the past, being a local snack manufacturer we had a lot more disadvantages, compared to our large MNC competitors which were more sophisticated in consumer understanding and marketing. How we ran our business [then] was by combining quality with value. While that got us [to where we are today], we realised it will not get us to where we want to be,” said Pang. Pang explained that focusing on quality and value alone would ultimately lead the brand to “a race to the bottom” and a dilute of margins and this could potentially make it hard for the brand to thrive long term.

As such, a rejuvenation was necessary. Mamee decided that it needed to inject excitement and experience to have a relationship the brand had with the customers. The experience had to go beyond just putting the physical product in the mouth. It needed to be holistic from when consumers hear about the campaign to when they buy product, consume and share it on social media.

"What we learnt along the way is that playbooks of the past might not be as relevant to consumers today and what we learnt might need to be thrown out. In the past we worked with media companies to push our messaging to consumers. But today, we want to create a platform for engagement for consumers and allow them to push the message they want to and take the brand where they would like to."

Pang added that this thought process trickled through the teams and the Monster in Black campaign did extremely well with minimum ATL backing. Spend was largely for social media ads. User generated content on the hunt for the limited-edition package also saw word of mouth marketing flourish for its products and drive purchase. One pack which would generally cost RM0.40 on eCommerce platforms such as Shopee, shot up to RM26 which spurred the conversations online and added to the snacking experience. With regard to searches, Pang said Mamee Monster’s nature as a household brand does not usually see itself trending on platforms such as Google Search, but during the campaign period, the brand saw a spike in searches.

“Consumers, when engaged with a campaign for a particular brand, are extremely creative. […] As such, Mamee is not just in the business of selling snacks but emotion and experiences. This is a mantra for the brand,” he said, adding that content was picked up by Buzzfeed and content was also created by consumers all across Malaysia. Overall during the campaign period, Mamee grew at 41% while the rest of the market saw growth levels of 23%.

He added that while there is never guarantee when it comes to going viral, ripping a page out of the K-drama book, he said, "Drama is important to maximise potential. You need high peaks and dips and emotional rollercoaster. We have to try to engineer some form of drama in our campaigns as well."

For example, with the bubble tea and Mamee collaboration Mamee embarked on with Tealive, it knew the flavour palette would not be for everyone and it banked on the talkability factor to drive awareness of Mamee's innovative nature. "The drama was there [in this partnership] because people might think the taste of the product is weird. And we could use this to our advantage and engineer our future products," he added. 

However, he was also quick to add that at the hear of Mamee's innovation is the consumer. "We ride on key trends relevant to consumers in our part of the world. We don’t try to recreate a world or new trend unique to us, but rather ride the trends relevant to the lives of our consumers." As such, he urges all brands to create a link between an existing trend and products  you already have. 

How has the consumer changed?

Prior to the launch of the campaign, Pang also embarked on an extensive study to understand the psychological needs and triggers of today’s generation. “In the past during the times of my grandfather, physiological needs and safety needs were dominant. But now the Millennials and Gen Z do not worry about such basic needs in life, or worry about their next meal or shelter,” he said. Today, esteem and belonging is more important for this new generation - which is what Mamee focused on in its marketing communications.

Looking at brands such as Tesla, Apple, Starbucks and Hai Di Lao, the team delved deeper to understand why these companies are a lot more successful and found that some of the world’s most valuable companies are those that provide brand and intangible values. Compared to 30 to 50 years ago, the brands that reigned were those of commodities. Today, the most successful companies do not just sell physical values but something intangible.

“The money is to be made in selling something intangible. Physical delivery of the product is not what consumers are paying for. It’s the psychological emotion delivered that consumers pay premium for,” Pang said.

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