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"15 Tricks of Formula Companies"
Infant formulas were originally designed to be a medical nutritional tool for babies who are unable to breastfeed due to unfortunate circumstances such as maternal death or illness. Nowadays the formula industry accounts for US$20.2 billion (data for 2010). It doesn’t take Einstein to figure out that formula is now being used by more than the 2% of women who physically can’t breastfeed. What went wrong? Formula companies got greedy and laws didn’t keep up, that’s what. The greedier the company, the more strategic and underhanded their marketing becomes. This article exposes 15 tricks of the most popular formula companies, illustrating how greed is more powerful than concern for infant welfare.
Trick #1: Get your logo everywhere
FACT: Exposure to formula promotion increases signiﬁcantly breastfeeding cessation in the ﬁrst 2 weeks. Also, among women with uncertain goals or breastfeeding goals of 12 weeks or less, exposure to formula promotion results in exclusive, full, and overall breastfeeding duration being shortened (Howard C et al. Obstetrics and Gynaecology Vol 5, No 2, Feb 2000 p296-303).
This is bad news for babies, but great news for formula companies. The less women who breastfeed – the more formula is purchased. This means lots of wonga for the shareholders. To put this scenario in context, check out the following stats:
The advertising spend for formula companies in 2006/07 was £7,626,847, an increase of 36.6% on the previous year.
The UK Government budget for promoting breastfeeding was £729,011 in 2006/07, a decrease on the 2004/05 ﬁgure of £747,000.
(Figures published by Save the Children).
The key to successful product marketing is to get as much exposure as possible, and the formula companies have got this down to a tee. They’ve been churning out hard sell marketing for decades. Here’s a Cow & Gate advertisement published widely in 1940s and 1950s UK:
With so many formula companies paying vast amounts of money to parenting magazines, is it any wonder the deputy editor of Mother and Baby magazine wrote an article describing breastfeeding as “creepy” (The Guardian ).
Along with magazines, formula companies also place their advertisements on third-party websites, forums and blogs, promoting their infant formula brand name and encouraging mothers to visit their company website. One of the reasons I am reluctant to activate advertising on this blog is the inevitability that a formula company will detect the parenting content and submit their advertisements to the server.
Not content with bombarding your computer when you’re online, formula companies want dibs on it offline too. The idea is that every time you switch on your PC or laptop you’ll see their brand. Here’s Aptamil’s free desktop calendar:
You’ll also be targeted in supermarkets, where Cow & Gate branded gifts such as dummies and growth charts are distributed. This photo was taken in Sainsbury’s, September 2007:
And here they are at it again in Tesco, August 2011:Aside from these examples, there’s also leaflets in health centres, email spam, snail-mail spam, supermarket ‘shelf talkers’ (plastic signs that flop out at you), pamphlets in Bounty packs, billboards, posters on public transport, internet pop-ups, TV commercials, radio advertisements, text messages, newspaper ads, social network advertising, YouTube video advertising, and several other gems I shall reveal bellow. Formula companies have an array of arsenal in their fight to line your baby’s gut, and more importantly, their pockets. The more cash they make, the more surplus funds they have to pump into their marketing arsenal. At this point you may wish to ponder what arsenal the breastfeeding movement has, and whose interests it serves.
Trick #2: Exploit the lazy
The rise of the bottle-feeding culture has fundamentally distorted our perception of the normal biology and psychology of new motherhood. It has produced a growing number of women who do not want babies’ feeds to dictate their lives. They cannot cope with the frequency of feeds required to maintain a good milk supply; that is, they cannot content themselves to sit and feed.
Why do a significant proportion of women now find that they 'can't cope' with something that's a biologically normal part of parenting? Women coped sufficiently well until formula marketing kicked off in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They also coped during the Second World War when formula was unavailable.
By claiming convenience, formula companies tap into the psyche of the lazy parent. However as I described in my article “10 (Selfish) Things I Love About Breastfeeding ”, formula feeding is anything but convenient and in many cases it’s tantamount to a pain in the arse.
No time is formula feeding more of a pain than during the night. Kettles to boil, powder to mix, milk to cool - it’s enough to wake the neighbours; so formula companies have produced ‘Goodnight Milk’. The name itself is an idealizing claim, as it suggests the milk is necessary for babies to sleep through the night. The suggestion itself is concerning, as sleeping deeper puts babies at higher risk of cot death. UNICEF has maintained that “Goodnight Milk is not necessary for any baby and there is no independent evidence to support the claim that they help babies settle or that they are easy to digest.” (UNICEF 2010 ).
Goodnight milks are thickened with cereals to make them harder to digest. Aside from the risk that they will be used to replace a night time breastfeed, another worry is that the products could encourage parents to put their baby to bed immediately after bottle-feeding which would rot a baby's developing teeth.
As with goodnight milk, the following SMA television advertisement plays on mothers’ insecurities and concerns about night feeding. It features a voice over from a man promising not to pretend to be asleep when his young baby wakes up and promising to do his share of night feeding. A scene from the ad shows a dad falling asleep next to a boiling kettle and a tin of SMA Progress in the middle of the night:
I’m sorry to burst SMA’s bubble but as Gabrielle Palmer (The Politics of Breastfeeding , 2009) has pointed out, “The reality is that few fathers actually do take the whole responsibility of infant care and most artificial feeding is still done by mothers”.