Baby (Food) Talk

Yesterday, I finished planning for the multicultural marketing communication course I will begin teaching on Monday. One of the topics I will cover this semester is ethics in multicultural marketing, and I consider this to be the most difficult topic since it’s about balancing the well-being of the consumer with companies’ drive for profit. It’s a conundrum that I mulled over in my post about the soft drinks industry increasingly targeting the multicultural market.

Last week, I read an article about the New York initiative to control access to infant formula, Latch On, and I again began thinking about ethics in marketing. Part of the initiative is to stop giving mothers free samples of infant formula, which is one of the ways that infant formula manufacturers build brand loyalty, and of course they are not happy about it. We all know that breast is best and that ideally infant formula should only be used if there’s a medical reason for it, so does that leave any room for formula brands market their product? The World Health Organization doesn’t seem to think so, since their “International Code of Marketing Breast-Milk Substitutes” frowns upon all advertising, promotions, and direct marketing, including within hospitals. Still, if a company exists, it means it markets, so I set out to find how one brand of baby formula, Enfamil, does it.

One of the provisions in WHO’s code of marketing is that formula manufacturers will not seek out contact with mothers or expecting mothers. In their offers page, I found how they circumvent this provision: instead of reaching out to the mothers themselves, they encourage the mothers to give them their information by offering a slew of free gifts in exchange. Social media is also something that WHO could not have predicted back in 1981, and Enfamil has a Facebook page where mothers can, again, voluntarily give access to their information. The page has a few posts against the marketing of formula, and while Enfamil has not responded to the posts they have at least allowed the posts to remain.

These loopholes have allowed Enfamil to continue marketing, but do you think it’s ethical? Baby formula fills a need for mothers who cannot breast-feed, but do you think that through marketing they are swaying mothers away from breast-feeding?

On a side note, my multicultural marketing course is open to anyone who wants to take it by emailing with the course code ADV4411. I leave you with the syllabus.

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3 Responses to Baby (Food) Talk

  1. Jack says:

    HI Sully,
    I am so thankful for this post. I just finished up some research myself on Infant baby formula and the Code. I found that the usa is heavily marketed and has not adopted the Code-nor is it being systematically implemented by manufacturers for domestic marketing. It is even heavily subsidized by the government at least one third of the american market is supported by the government with over half of infant formula sold in the country provided through the WIC program. According to surveys over 70% of large us hospitals dispense infant formula to all infants, a practice opposed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and in violation of the code. I do believe though that most WIC programs are now expanding their breastfeeding promotion strategies, which includes subsidies for mothers who use milk banks. On Closing, I wonder if other countries lets say Mexico, have adopted the code and if their country utilizes such enforcement measures or sanctions against distributors or manufacturers of breast-milk substitiutes?? I myself will continue on my research as my main interest is to know how prevailent and solid will this industry be in the upcoming future? In contrast, the code has been in play for awhile, and yet so far it has not even affected most of these companies, well, exempt one, Nestle’ which has taken a large brunt of the initial violations, since this code was enacted in 1981. Good luck with your class! and I welcome any of your comments on my writing..:)

  2. Jack says:

    Dear Sully,
    I apologize as I realized I did not answer your questions, and so here goes, I believe that most health organizations in this country that state that based on statistics we have an overweight epidemic in this country, however, McDonalds, who is known to have higher food contents continues to thrive, even in the midst of a push for healthier food choices and weight loss movement, therefore, companies like Subway, were created with seemingly healthier food choices and fresher food items. So, with that being said, my opinion of whether or not these companies influence or sway mothers away from breastfeeding by offering free samples and formulas to them, is no different than Subway is to Mcdonalds, Perhaps everyone should not go to Mcdonalds, but I believe companies should not be scrutinized for placing themselves as a company that offers certain alternative products, should the consumer find him/herself to be in that market area. In the United States any given day, walk into any Walmart store, and if you think it will only take you 5 minutes to get something simple as a box of band aids, think again,the next thing you know, you are looking at 15 different brands of band aids, and you think to yourself as your walking out the door with your new “glow-in-dark-” band aids, now why do i need these instead of regular band aids that wouldve worked? Oh yeah, that’s right…so I don’t fall in the dark. In conclusion, I believe that infant formula companies should be allowed to give samples and that I believe the ultimate decision should be the mothers, as I always have felt that no one knows her child better than a mother and I really don’t believe that samples will sway her away from breastfeeding, however, not all mothers will breastfeed, and they should not be punished for the ones that do. Thanks again for allowing others to comment. And again Good Luck with your class!

  3. Sully Moreno says:

    Thank for your comments, Jack, you’ve clearly put a lot of thought into this issue! You have a good point that even though marketing and promotions can be persuasive, they’re probably not going to radically change the decisions people would have made anyway.

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