Daily Archives: June 29, 2011

How Formula Marketing Came to Be: A Bit of Satire

Scene: The year is 1939. War is raging in Europe We are in a high-rise office over looking the big city. It’s late. There are two men sitting inside, wearing suits and ties and smoking. Because, after all, smoking is cool. 

Man 1: So, so, so! (Slapping Man 2 on shoulder) How’s fatherhood treating you?

Man 2: The boy is great! He’s quite the little man, I’ll tell you. Strong, happy but you know what? He takes up all of my wife’s time.

Man 1: (Guffawing) And that’s a bad thing? Take my wife, please!

Man 2: No, I am serious. Every time I look at her, she’s holding him or playing with him or cooing at him or feeding him. He’s only three weeks old, but it’s as if he’s more important than me! The feeding is the worst part… those used to be my toys. (He looks wistfully out the window.)

Man 1: But she’s still fulfilling her wifely duties, right. After all, that’s her job too.

Man 2: (makes a rude noise) NO. Because whenever I start in on her, that baby starts crying or smacking his lips and she’ll push me off to “comfort” him. And when he finally does go to sleep, she tells me that she’s (takes on a whining tone) “tired” and “doesn’t want to be touched anymore right now.” Fine. I won’t touch her, but I have needs too, dammit! (hits the table with fist.)

Man 1: Wow. That baby’s taking over everything. You can’t even touch your wife anymore. (starts laughing)

Man 2: You know it would be just better if there was a way for her not to feel so worn out. I think it’s all the milk the baby takes from her. He’s sucking on her every two hours.

Man 1: You know, that sounds familiar… hold on there, sport. (takes a drag of his cigarette and walks over to a paper-strewn desk. Begins to rifle through the papers.) Here it is! This was submitted a few weeks ago and I didn’t know where to go with it. It’s for an artificial infant feeding mix.

Man 2: How’s that?

Man 1: According to this, it’s based in evaporated milk and has a bunch of other stuff thrown in. I don’t know the science, I am just supposed to sell the stuff.

Man 1: Who’s it for?

Man 2: It’s supposed to be for mothers who can’t make their own milk, but it’s just not selling.

Man 1: If I could get some of that to my wife, I might get her in bed once in a while. I mean if that evaporated milk stuff is as good as her milk and it can buy me some time with her, I am all about it. When is the ad campaign due?

Man 2: (Takes another drag.) It’ll be tight. I have to make the pitch in 2 weeks.

Man 1: OK, let’s work on this. Because you know that  am not the only man out there cast out like a dog because of the baby. We need to figure out a way to make the regular way of feeding seem inconvenient and lower-class. We need to make this stuff sound futuristic and better because it’s made in a factory. How about this, we spin it so that we “Dads” can get more involved (snorts) because we can “help feed the baby” giving our wives more time for themselves! Do you think they’ll buy it?

Man 2: We’re smoking aren’t we? People will buy anything if you sell it right.

(Scene)

OK, yes, this was a little satire…  but for a little history: From Wikipedia:

In parallel with the enormous shift (in industrialized nations) away from breastfeeding to home-made formulas, nutrition scientists continued to analyze human milk and attempted to make infant formulas that more closely matched its composition.[4] Maltose and dextrins were believed nutritionally important, and in 1912, the Mead Johnson Company released a milk additive called Dextri-Maltose. This formula was made available to mothers only by physicians. In 1919, milkfats were replaced with a blend of animal and vegetable fats as part of the continued drive to closer simulate human milk. This formula was called SMA for “simulated milk adapted.”[10]

In the late 1920s, Alfred Bosworth released Similac (for “similar to lactation”), and Mead Johnson released Sobee.[10] Several other formulas were released over the next few decades, but commercial formulas did not begin to seriously compete with evaporated milk formulas until the 1950s. The reformulation and concentration of Similac in 1951, and the introduction (by Mead Johnson) of Enfamil in 1959 were accompanied by marketing campaigns that provided inexpensive formula to hospitals and pediatricians.[10] By the early 1960s, commercial formulas were more commonly used than evaporated milk formulas, which all but vanished in the 1970s. By the early 1970s, over 75% of babies in the United States were fed on formulas, almost entirely commercially produced.[4]

When birth rates in industrial nations tapered off during the 1960s, infant formula companies heightened marketing campaigns in non-industrialized countries. Unfortunately, poor sanitation led to steeply increased mortality rates among infants fed formula prepared with contaminated (drinking) water.[19] Organized protests, the most famous of which was theNestlé boycott of 1977, called for an end to unethical marketing. This boycott is ongoing, as the current coordinators maintain that Nestlé engages in marketing practices which violate the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes.

I read something somewhere and it much more succinctly sums up the whole breastfeeding/ formula feeding debate. While breastmilk is superior, Formula is not bad. Formula has helped countless babies over the years who otherwise might have fared worse. Formula Marketing is the problem.

Now, people could say that breastfeeding doesn’t need to be marketed, because it’s always there, but what does need to be marketed is how breastfeeding is a normal activity and not sexual and not deviant. We need to market that if you want to breastfeed your child, and you need help, find help and we need to market where that help can be found.

When I was pregnant with The Bear in 2006/7, I remember on my first office visit walking out with a book about fetal development and formula samples. No information about La Leche League or other breastfeeding support groups, nothing. On one of the later visits, when I made my breastfeeding intentions known, I walked about with the “Just in Case” sample bag with the cute little “Breastfeeding Kit” tag. It was a shoulder bag filled with formula samples… just in case I needed it. Again, nothing on breastfeeding support.

Why do moms fail with breastfeeding? Because they don’t have help and they don’t know where to find help. I chatted with a young mom at the park last week. She had a four month old with her and she nursed baby for one month. When I told her I was a volunteer working with nursing moms, she told me that she stopped nursing because baby would choke, cough and pull off whenever she tried to nurse, so she thought that something was wrong with her milk! (Any thoughts as to what was going on? Sounds a bit like oversupply to me.) Had this mom been with a group of  other breastfeeding moms she might have been able to nurse her baby a little bit longer, maybe even to her goal of six months.

I know that it sounds like a radical departure for a self-professed lactivist, but again… formula in and of itself if not bad. But the marketing sure is. And I am sure that sexually-deprived ad men are not to blame for formula marketing, but it does make for an interesting plot device, no?
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Pax Christi!

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