My inner capitalist is about to rear her ugly head, so brace yourselves (and just for the record, so I don’t provoke an Occupy FFF – I am 100% part of the 99%.)
A reader emailed me the other night regarding a shady website sponsored by Abbot (the makers of Similac). Called “Night Nurse Nation“, the site is designed to offer information for night nurses. Now, I’m not sure if they mean the kind of night nurses that people hire to stay in their homes (like my friend Kristine), or the nurses on the night shift in hospital maternity wards. These are two very different professions; one is a private, in-home service provider adept at dealing with newborns and employed in order to let new parents get some much-needed sleep; the other is a hospital employee and medical professional. The distinction is key, because very often, people hire night nurses for the express purpose of having them deal with night feedings (although just as often the night nurse may be a doula or LC who is hired to help with breastfeeding); unless the mom is pumping, her night nurse may very well be using formula. Seems like a plausible excuse for this type of marketing, at least.
On the other hand, if the “night nurses” in question are the hospital employee type, the site takes on a more insidious meaning – because formula companies should not be blatantly marketing their products to nurses dealing with new moms; not so much because this will discourage breastfeeding, but because it may result in them pushing a particular brand of formula. For example, the site has a page about colostrum which doesn’t really explain anything about colostrum, choosing instead to focus on lutein, which is apparently REALLY important and oh yeah, guess what, it’s also in Similac formula.
That’s kind of, well, sketchy. But I’m not sure we should expect anything less from a formula company. I don’t doubt that they have teams of brilliant marketing execs sitting around expensive conference rooms, plotting how to sell more formula. But I also don’t give a crap, and here is why: Formula companies are big corporations. If Big Formula were a Beatles song, it wouldn’t be All You Need is Love, but rather Money. Okay, better analogy – if this industry were an animal, it would be a shark rather than a furry bunny rabbit. We wouldn’t expect a shark to snuggle up to us and wiggle it’s nose for a carrot, right? So why do we expect a company to go against its Darwinian instinct to make money and sell, sell, sell?
Interestingly, when I told Fearless Husband about this post, he shook his head. “I don’t think all they care about is money,” he said. “If all they cared about was money, they’d stop doing R&D.” But as much as I’d like to agree with him, I think that logic is flawed. Better product means better sales, which means – you guessed it – more money.
Let me make one thing clear: I do not in any way believe that these days, formula companies are the reason for sub-par breastfeeding rates (unless you believe their very existence, and hence the availability of formula itself is to blame…if you believe that, then I doubt you care too much about what I have to say anyway). But I do think they are guilty of misguided, and sometimes slimy, behavior in their quest to sell product. And that’s okay. We can’t expect them to behave any differently from other big industries. They should not have to be held to a higher standard simply because the product they hawk is controversial.
Just because I’m a realist about how these companies operate, though, doesn’t mean I don’t wish they would find some less-gross ways to market themselves. We do not adhere to WHO Code in this country; therefore the formula companies should not have to stoop to bottom-feeding lows like running “breastfeeding help lines” (seriously?) or websites directed at care providers working with postpartum moms. I believe they have a right to do these things, but I also think it’s plain dumb that they do. They aren’t fooling anyone by pretending to champion breastfeeding; they are certainly not going to pacify anti-formula lactivists no matter what they do (except for dissolving their consumer product departments and become prescription-only), and as I’ve said before, it alienates their already-formula-feeding customer base.
So how should they market? Well, I’m going to pretend to be an ad exec for a moment (see, I knew my years of being a struggling actress and auditioning for commercials would pay off someday!) and present my concept for a great formula ad campaign:
Open on quick flashes of different women, with words showing up alongside their images: Had a mastectomy….On lifesaving, but contra-indicated medication… Insufficient Glandular Tissue… Sexual Abuse Survivor…. Combo-feeding…Difficult work situation….Child has severe food allergies…
After each woman’s image and corresponding tagline is shown, their “scene” become part of a tapestry, with all of the women visible on-screen. And these words appear, superimposed against the tapestry of women : Loves her baby with all her heart.*
Screen goes black, and we see a picture of a formula can, with the words: When breastfeeding isn’t an option, try Simifamilstart.
*Please note that the campaign I would run, if I ran the world, would use the words “None of your damn business, asshole” rather than “Loves her baby with all her heart”, but I doubt that would make it past the FCC)
Look. There’s no escaping the truth that formula companies have done horrible things in the past, and they will probably do many more shady things in the years to come. But other than the Nestle scandal – which was indescribably evil, no doubt – I’m not convinced that what formula companies are doing is any worse than other forms of corporate marketing used by other industries. (While we’re talking about this, I think it’s far more questionable to allow prescription drugs to be advertised every which way, as if they were consumer products, than it is to allow formula to be advertised freely. Is there a WHO Code for pharmaceuticals?) But I think if we could start approaching formula companies with more realism and less hysteria, and in turn, they could stop being so obtuse about making lame attempts at sly marketing (I mean seriously, Abbot… what’s with that Night Nurse Nation site? It’s beyond stupid) then maybe we’d get somewhere.
Here’s an even better idea: maybe the formula companies could just run innocuous ads on tv and stop spending money on “creative” marketing experts who get them into these ridiculous debacles, and instead start investing that cash into research and development? Come on, now. Don’t make a liar out of Fearless Husband.