MALAYSIA - Hot on the heels of the food name controversy that hit Auntie Anne’s pretzel dog, local fastfood chain Ninja Joe is facing ire for naming its pork burger P. Ramly, after the popular Ramly halal burger patties.
Muslim consumer groups protested that the name of the burger was misleading, although the poster promoting the burger clearly stated that it was made of pork patty. A number of consumers were also particularly riled up that the name sounds similar to that of P. Ramlee, a Malay-Muslim screen legend. Some people found the name disrespectful to the late actor.
“Ninja Joe’s branding seems to be cheeky and bold, and the naming of a pork burger that sounds very close to two Malay icons (P. Ramlee and Ramly burger) is definitely a risky move,” said Julia Koh, executive director of Brand360.
Although the resulting publicity is undeniable, the state Islamic authority is currently investigating the chain on charges of supplying food that can mislead, create misrepresentation or falsely give the impression that the food was halal.
Ninja Joe had earlier apologised and pledged to change the name of the burger following pressure from the public. Its proprietor Kevin Tan explained to news site The Malay Mail Online that the name was an homage to Ramly burgers loved by generation of Malaysians, and it was mere coincidence that it sounds like the name of the Malay actor. The brand also launched a public poll on Facebook to find a new name for the burger.
“The backlash will hurt their overall brand health, and there may well be a temporary top-line side effect,” said Koh. As Ninja Joe had called the issue a brouhaha in their earlier statement on Facebook, Koh said their lighthearted apology might have underestimated the gravity of the situation and the religious sensitivities involved.
“They should have renamed it immediately rather than court more publicity by asking for name suggestions from a largely non-supporting online audience,” said Koh.
Ninja Joe later issued a more solemn apology, stating that it would immediately cease the use of the name P. Ramly. According to Koh, brands can afford to be cheeky without being religiously controversial. Ads by Nando’s are the best examples, she said.
On lessons that can be drawn by other non-halal brands in Malaysia following the kerfuffle faced by Ninja Joe, Koh said, “Non-halal brands need to stay consistent on their brand values (as do all brands!) But brands have to be extra mindful of religious sensitivities. It would help to have a diverse panel to test out ideas and to keep out of race and religion lanes.”