There’s an update at the bottom of this post.
When Haagen Dazs, the super-premium ice-cream company owned by the US corporation General Mills, recently announced it would be opening its first store in India in New Delhi, they probably weren’t ready for the internet sh*tstorm that was about to descend.
Someone sent me an article from a Times of India blog. The Haagen Dazs ice-cream franchisee in Delhi decided on a grand opening that involved a special preview for international travelers: “Access restricted only to holders of international passports.” Those international passports did not apparently include Indian ones; when the blogger’s friend “Ramit” tried to enter, he was turned away.
It’s already up on Boing Boing, one of the internet’s most influential blogs.
Foreign companies do sometimes make mistakes in their assessment of Indian markets and consumers. It’s usually carelessness or cultural obtuseness. This time, though, the problem seems to be home-grown. The franchisee is Indian; the location is Indian; and the man reportedly denied entry is Indian.
The embarrassment is truly multinational. The internet knows no borders.
For companies, it suggests that apart from avoiding self-inflicted wounds like this one, it also makes sense to have a corporate policy for dealing with any issue that is likely to capture the public eye. There’s no such thing as far away.
Between blogs, social media, and people willing to “boost the signal”, it is impossible to *contain* such problems. They have to be responded to, and defused.
Right now, apologies would be good. And maybe some explanation: What was the man thinking?
There isn’t anything on the websites of Haagen Dazs, or of General Mills, as of Dec 15th, anyway.
Followup: An article in India’s Economic Times, says the local manager claims it was all a mistake. The banner was supposed to imply that the ice-cream would be bringing a European flavor to India (though the brand is a US one.) And apparently Ramit was excluded not because he was Indian, but because the store was too crowded. Tempest in a teacup or frantic damage control? Difficult to tell, but better than nothing.
2nd Followup: Anu Bhatia, of General Mills India, sent us this response (click on “read more”)…
Dear Ms. Bose,
At the outset, we thank you for writing to us, and appreciate your message. There have been some reports on various online media alleging that the recently opened Häagen-Dazs shop in New Delhi, India, denied access to Indians. We vehemently and categorically deny this. Häagen-Dazs products and our Häagen-Dazs shop in India are and will always be for our consumers in India.
The recently opened Häagen-Dazs shop is open to one and all, and there’s no question of barring entry to anyone on any basis. The preview on Thursday, 10th December had a morning media event which was attended by journalists of repute from Indian media. The same evening we had a launch party for our friends and families, less than 5% of whom were foreigners. Also, during the mock training days at the shop leading up to 10th December, a lot of interest was generated and hundreds of walk-ins were given free samples of our ice cream. The store is now open to all public and seeing brisk business.
The poster in question was part of initial local store communication at a few locations within the same mall announcing the opening of the new Häagen-Dazs shop in the mall. The message was intended to suggest that you can enjoy, for instance, a taste of the French Riviera without traveling to France – by enjoying Häagen-Dazs. Unfortunately the reference to the international passport holder on the poster may have led to a significant miscommunication. This was completely unintended. It was a wrong choice of words, and we regret the error. We sincerely apologize for creating this misimpression that may have hurt our sentiments as Indians.
Consumer Relations Manager, General Mills India