Booby Traps Series: Direct-to-mom formula marketing, or “How did all that formula end up on my doorstep?”

401px-Enfamil_Formula_(2457208915)Did you wake one morning to find a case of formula you never ordered on your doorstep?

Here’s one way it may have ended up there.

For years formula companies have relied on hospitals to promote their products through “gift bags” given to moms as they leave.  They have been a very effective marketing tool,*  but they’re slowly but surely on the way out.  The decline in the distribution of these bags has been been documented in research and also in our survey of you.

So if you were one of those companies and you wanted to continue to recruit new customers, how else could you do it?  Where do pregnant and new moms go, both in person and online?

UntitledWell, pregnant moms need clothes.  And many of them purchase maternity clothes at one of a few chain stores.  Let’s take a look at one of those.

Destination Maternity, which operates Motherhood Maternity and A Pea in the Pod, is the world’s largest maternity apparel retailer with over 1,700 retail locations in the U.S., Canada, India and the Middle East.

As of a few years ago Destination Maternity had 35% to 45% market share of the US maternity apparel business, and was poised to grow, according to one business analysis.  It also supplies maternity clothes to department stores, including Kohl’s, Sears, and Macy’s.

Destination Maternity also has a business partnership with Mead Johnson, makers of Enfamil.  This partnership is displayed on their website (see above image).

When mothers shop at Motherhood Maternity, they are encouraged to sign up for a “perks” program to “save up to $400” through coupons, samples, and discounts from their preferred partners (if you sign up online you’d have to know to scroll down to see who thees partners are).  When mothers who sign up for this program their information shared with a formula company, and that’s how formula samples appear on their doorsteps.

An astonishing 70% of you told us that you received formula gifts (including samples) in the mail when you hadn’t requested them.  And many of you told us that Motherhood is the only place where you shopped for maternity items.  One of you even entered a fake name to see if you’d receive samples addressed to that name, and you did!

This is one form of direct-to-consumer marketing of formula.  It comes in other forms, too, such as online advertising (Enfamil actually created a page heading which read “the breastmilk formula” a few years ago), television ads with product placement tie-ins on reality baby shows, and magazines.

All of these forms of marketing are violations of the World Health Organization’s Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, which explicitly prohibits both direct-to-mother advertising of formula and marketing through providing samples.

Did you receive formula samples in the mail?  Do you think that the companies got your information from a maternity store?

* Not sure why those bags are harmful to breastfeeding?  Check out this post.

2 thoughts on “Booby Traps Series: Direct-to-mom formula marketing, or “How did all that formula end up on my doorstep?”

  1. Wow. It amazes me how much abuse women put up with from companies in the US. I have NEVER been bothered at all by formula companies for either of my children – and that’s the way it should be. And I’ve been to all the baby markets, baby shows, had my bubs in hospitals etc. The only advertising I’ve noticed is the laughable daytime tv adverts with their weird glowing toddlers on them.

    If I want formula, then it is there on the shelves of the shop to be bought. If I want information on it, then it is there to be found. But this relentless shoving of formula into your hands and insidious undermining of breastfeeding must wear people out.

    I’m Australian and some woman in the US used my email address as ‘her’ contact at some baby event. It was strange – I have a simple email address so it often gets abused by other people but the bizarre part this time was that we were obviously only about a month apart in pregnancies.

    I have to say, it has been very interesting to receive all the carefully scripted emails as they come in. Every growth spurt has had an email to accompany it – and little phrases along the lines of ‘knowing your baby is getting enough’, and the mention that babies who don’t get adequate nutrition and adequate sleep are somehow being damaged, are slotted in to play on the fears of a mother with an unsettled baby (perfectly normal during a growth spurt). Then there’s the ‘you’ll be wanting your freedom back’ ones and the ‘you’ll be needing bottles if you want to go out in public’ (that one pissed me off a bit…the whole tone of the paragraph was along the lines of ewwww…NIP…grosss…).

    It is such a shame that women aren’t given a fair chance at breastfeeding – and most don’t even realise the extent to which they are being undermined and exploited. All for the sake of the almighty dollar.


  2. You know, the World Health Organization is a body that I really respect, and if they say this type of marketing is wrong, then it must be REALLY wrong. It makes me think that companies that don’t follow the rules simply cannot be trusted. Then I think, if we can’t trust them to do the right thing, how can we trust them to make our baby’s only food? I mean, if they aren’t doing what they are supposed to be doing with advertising, what else are they doing that we don’t know about – yet???


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