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 firstname.lastname@example.org with the course code ADV4411. I leave you with the syllabus.