Friday, February 11, 2011

The Untapped Potential of the Unborn

Peggy Orenstein wrote an article for NPR about a disturbing trend: Disney marketing reps in the maternity ward. She notes that Disney recognized an untapped market and  that "[c]hildren are not becoming consumers of its products until preschool, resulting in a good three years of potential revenue loss."

To rectify this glaring oversight in the marketing strategy, Disney is now sending reps to the bedsides of exhausted new mothers to peddle their wares. Their primary target? Little girls who need to know the importance of being a "princess" as quickly as possible. (The princess culture is a topic of Orenstein's new book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter--which is currently about 80th on my to-read list, placing it in the top third).

She points out in the article that children are particularly susceptible to these marketing ploys, developing brand recognition as young as 12 months. The most disturbing aspect of marketing to youth (which was my main complaint about those commercials during the Nick Jr clips a few posts back), is that these are children too young to analyze the manipulation of advertisements.

The truth is, some studies show that children under 8 years old can't distinguish between ads and entertainment. Until then, they don't fully comprehend that advertising is trying to sell them something. That gives marketers an unfair — not to mention predatory — advantage over our kids.
And not only are the kids vulnerable, but the hours immediately following my daughter's birth were some of my most vulnerable moments. I had not slept in 55 hours. I was overwhelmed with emotion, excited about the future, and in an unfamiliar environment. There were people in and out of the room, many of them trying to sell me things (overtly or covertly). Did I want the professional photographer to come by? What about a commemorative footprint with my daughter's name to hang on the hospital wall?

Reading this article also reminded me of another disturbing marketing ploy in the maternity ward. Orenstein says of Disney's efforts that "[t]he idea is to encourage mothers to infuse their infants with brand loyalty as if it is mother's milk."

The line about mother's milk made me remember that I had been given a "gift bag" in the hospital. The nurse asked me if I would be breast or bottle feeding so that she could give me the right bag. I told her breastfeeding, so she brought me a bag filled with this:

 Yes, Similac sponsored a "breastfeeding" bag (which did contain some nursing pads and cheap breastmilk storage bottles) chock full of samples and coupons for Similac formula.

It wasn't until I read this post over at Just West of Crunchy that I really recognized how disturbing this type of marketing is. The post is about some problematic aspects of the Medela products, but the part that stood out to me was about the World Health Organization's International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.

Included in this code is this provision:
“Manufacturers and distributors should not distribute to pregnant women or mothers of infants and young children any gifts of articles or utensils which may promote the use of breastmilk substitutes or bottle feeding.” (Article 5.4)
Similac obviously has no ethical qualms about tossing that suggestion aside. And even more disturbing is that one of the booklets in this "breastfeeding gift bag" (titled "The Art of Feeding" for "Similac StrongMoms") has a section on "Supplementing and formula feeding." In this section, it suggests to women who will "be gone for an extended period during the day on a regular basis" that they will "want to start the conversion to formula a few weeks ahead of time."

Here is something I did not know before giving birth: breastfeeding is f'ing exhausting. For serious. 
It was tempting in those first few weeks to crack open one of those free formula samples and get some sleep, but I fought off the urge.

I don't think there's anything wrong with choosing to formula feed, but there's obviously a whole different gift bag for women who make that choice. Can't Similac just target them instead of trying to dismantle the efforts of breastfeeding moms?

Advertisement is a subtly pervasive omnipresence, and it seems like we should have some safe spaces. Can't the hospital room be one of those?

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