by Heidi Green
May 10, 2012
It may seem odd that less than half of Gerber’s new 30-second ad for its Good Start infant formula actually talks about the product. After all, 30 seconds isn’t so long. Shouldn’t the company use every last moment to tout the benefits of the product it’s shilling?
So you might think.
But formula companies these days are up against a formidable alternative: breastfeeding. The benefits of breastfeeding for mothers and babies—and, along with that, the high cost of not breastfeeding—are widely recognized.
What’s more Nestlé, Gerber’s parent company since 2007, has been charged with marketing strategies designed to undercut breastfeeding at the expense of infant health. Positioning itself as the breastfeeding moms’ best friend is an attempt to overcome its troubled past. Thus, the company has rebranded its “Nestlé Good Start” label with the smiling Gerber baby, developed a series of videos about “how to nourish Generation Healthy through the milestones,” (more about that in a minute) and launched its new feel-good marketing campaign.
But there’s nothing to feel good about with this advertisement. Beyond the adorable baby and the mother’s gentle touch, this ad has nothing to offer the breastfeeding mothers who are its intended audience. “You want your baby to have your imagination, your smile, your eyes … not your allergies,” it declares. After acknowledging that “breastfeeding is the best way to naturally protect your baby” from this danger, it gets to the heart of its message: “If you do introduce formula, choose the Gerber Good Start Comfort Proteins advantage.” Such statements are well-recognized as “booby traps” to breastfeeding.
According to the ad, this formula is “inspired by breast milk” and produced by a company that is “nourishing” what it calls “Generation Healthy.” But what it isn’t—and cannot be—is a replacement for breastfeeding.
And while the final screen promises “expert feeding advice 24/7,” it seems best to remember that this company has at its heart one goal: selling formula, and, after that, a line of complementary foods.
Simply put, breastfeeding promotion is not the job of a company whose products compete with breast milk. Nor should it be. The company’s marketing bias cannot help but affect its advice.
Take, for example, Gerber’s video series, mentioned above. The first video promises to cover “all about breastfeeding,” a tall order indeed for just over 10 minutes of screen-time. The advice here is generally sound, given by a self-described breastfeeding mother named Francesca as she guides her friend through using several breastfeeding positions with her newborn. However, while Francesca notes that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends mothers breastfeed for at least a year or as long as the mother and baby want, she ignores the group’s call for exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months.
The second video tackles pumping and storing milk, perplexingly recommending that mothers stop pumping when their breasts are “somewhat emptied,” rather than fully emptied. The third video turns to bottle-feeding and bottle care and by this video, Francesca is no longer said to be breastfeeding. The fourth is about “choosing a formula for your baby,” which Francesca explains she did when she decided to supplement her breast milk. The “milestones” the series is designed to address, then, are a short period of breastfeeding followed by supplemented feeding (or, the company’s narrator points out, exclusive formula-feeding), and then the introduction of complementary foods. The implicit message? We’re here for you when you give up breastfeeding—which you will.
We recognize that some women choose never to breastfeed and that only 1 in 10 U.S. mothers breastfeed exclusively for six months. But it is disingenuous, at best, for formula companies to promote breastfeeding, knowing that they profit only when mothers choose not to breastfeed.
While Gerber might promise that its “experts are here to help,” breastfeeding mothers are best advised to get their help elsewhere. Talk with your health care provider or a lactation consultant about the breastfeeding resources in your area. La Leche League has trained leaders available to answer questions in many areas, and breastfeeding counselors from the newly-minted Breastfeeding USA may be able to help with breastfeeding questions and concerns.
When it comes to breastfeeding, don’t look to Gerber for a “good start.”
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