Letting Life Lead
I wasn’t going to touch this topic with a ten foot pole, but I’ve got a complaint directed at Similac. I know what you are up to, and it makes me angry that you are using the vulnerabilities of parents, particularly mothers just to drum up business. And that’s all this was meant for. Don’t your dare try to tell me it wasn’t.
I know that there were a bunch of people sitting in a room over coffee and donuts brainstorming how best to draw attention away from the tarnish on the Similac name, and to generate a rather obscene amount of free advertising. A viral video, after cost of production, will replicate itself faster than fruit flies on a rotten cantaloupe. Spare me me the song and dance that you produce the video to create solidarity and togetherness. I know about the lip service given to breastfeeding support because not doing anything in the wake of the “breasts are for babies” backlash, your sales got hit. Not enough to harm the bottom line, but enough to shake the profit tree. As breastfeeding rates rise; formula purchases fall. It is what it is.
I get it. You are a business, and businesses want to make money. However, a business that is dedicated to producing a breastmilk substitute needs to hold itself to a higher standard because once a mother has chosen formula and her milk is gone (or could not be produced in the first place), she relies on you for the very life of her baby. Her only other choices are to buy milk from a Milk Bank which is cost prohibitive, or to rely on Milk Share donors which may not be enough or not something she’s comfortable with. Her only option is formula, and she expects a lot. And she should!
As a breastfeeding mother, it makes me angry that you are playing with her trust and her need.
I admit that when I first saw the video (which I refuse to link to since it has enough views already) I was sucked in. Someone had taken all of the stereotypes and turned them on their heads. I was a bit put out by every nursing mother having a Hooter Hider, but none of the ones who go without one were seen. I had looked for her feeding her baby with no tent and no one noticing, but she was not to be found. I let it go because of the baby wearing Dads. Even the ones with the crotch danglers that made me cross my legs. I thought, okay, despite all the arguments everyone has just one thing in common. The over the top hug-fest moment at the end made me roll my eyes a bit, but I let that slide. I got the punchline.
Then came the branding. Similac.
What the Fahrvergnügen. Really? I was expecting there to be either no credits or maybe a non-profit Up With People sort of thing. Maybe even the WHO. But you Similac, by branding the video, changed everything. I know your sleazy game. This is not a “reach out and touch someone” kind of product. This is a product about babies lives. This was an ad produced for the sole purpose of advertising Similac. If you wanted to impress me and make me view your image differently, you would have left it unsigned. Be humble. Let someone do some deep digging and sleuthing to reveal, “Hey, guess who made that video last year? Similac!” You didn’t need to make this ad with a brand because you have plenty of others. I was particularly amused by the ones that used to have the “breastfeeding is recommended” addendum written in white letters on a light colored background on the very bottom of the screen. Not quite as amusing a the calm, soothing, caramel, whispering voice that tells you about the side effects in the drug advertisements.
You aren’t for supporting anyone. It’s a bait and switch of the worst kind. This sort of advertising doesn’t get much outrage in the United States because we are lucky enough to have clean water, sanitation, and health care so if a vulnerable breastfeeding mother is sabotaged a life threatening outcome is avoided. A mother who needs or chooses formula from the start will likely never know how a single sample of formula can weaken the resolve of a woman struggling to get breastfeeding established. The company may claim that they are helping women by providing free formula samples in hospitals, but that small sample is not any where near the amount a baby needs for the first year and a half of life. It’s a drop in a vast bucket. Claims of benevolence — squashed.
Other countries have laws against this sort of advertising of formula particularly in hospitals. Maybe some people aren’t aware of the history of unethical practices of formula companies in countries with large portions of the population living in poverty. Aggressive advertising convinced large numbers of women that their milk was inferior to formula and they bought into it. They wanted the best, and they tried to buy it (even though they already had it). Breastfeeding rates plummeted. Not only that, they could not afford the formula and did not have the sanitary conditions to mix it properly. By then they were then obligated to use it, and then they started diluting it. Sickness and mortality rate rose.
It is well known among many that if you want to get formula samples and coupons more frequently, be sure you indicate in every place you can that you are breastfeeding. You’ll be flooded with plenty of coupons and samples to pass on to your formula friends. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even need to do that. I bought only breastfeeding related products and in my second trimester I got a free box of formula from Similac and coupons up to six months later. You see, once a woman is using formula there are no new customers. The ones you want are the ones who aren’t using it yet. So, don’t try to tell me that you produced that video for the benefit of parents everywhere. You made it to line your pocket.
When you are producing a life preserving product like formula, try very hard to emulate as close as possible the food nature designed for human growth, and you know it is essential once it is chosen as the sole source of infant food, you have an obligation to ethics. This is not a choice between fat free and whole yogurt. These are lives who trust in the promises made that formula will be an adequate substitute manufactured to the best abilities of the technology, and that tactics will not be used to undermine the breastfeeding demographic for the sake of sales . To use women against each other in your advertising in order to draw attention away from your unethical practices and to place yourself first is appalling.
Similac, you are an asshole.
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Author of suspense novels Search For Maylee, Aggravated Momentum, The Stix, and New Age Lamians. As well as the short story collection Time Wasters and (co-author of) The Suspenseful Collection. Columnist for The Conscious Talk Magazine.
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