Friday, 8 February 2013

Making Feeding that Little Bit More Simple: Unpicking Mothercare's Innosense Ad

I've been watching the response to the latest Mothercare ad with interest. The interesting bit is that, even on pages aimed at breastfeeding mothers, most people are fairly sure that there’s nothing wrong with the advert at all. To be fair, if you’re an advertising executive or a multinational baby kit supplier, the ad is pretty awesome. If you’re interested in increasing the rate of breastfeeding prevalence for the benefit of mothers, children, and society at large then it’s somewhat crappy. Let's examine why:

It Contravenes the WHO Code

Ad execs love breastfeeding
The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes was drawn up in Geneva in 1981 and subsequently agreed to by many countries, including the UK. It recognises that the advertising and promoting of certain products fundamentally undermines breastfeeding. Most people are aware that advertising infant formula is against the code (a clause which formula companies have side-stepped by heavily advertising almost identically labelled ‘follow on’ milks suitable from six months) but the WHO code also applies to bottles and teats. It’s actually irrelevant whether the bottle is full of expressed breastmilk, formula, or caramel latte; it’s the bottle and teat that’s against the rules.

Article 5.3 of The Code says that there should be “ point-of-sale advertising, giving of samples, or any other promotional device to induce sales directly to the consumer at the retail level such as special displays...” I wonder if Mothercare's extensive programme of posters, television advertisements , website and youtube promotions count as a ‘special display’.

It Pretends to be Pro-Breastfeeding

The TV ad starts with a Mum breastfeeding a baby in a creepily clean house. I say ‘breastfeeding’, the baby is shown to be latched on (which is further than most ads go, I’ll grant) but active mouth movements are obviously a step too far. A mere 25 seconds in Mum is transported to the kitchen and it’s Dad’s turn to gaze at the baby. Mum pops the lid on one of the fantasta-bottles, which contains some white liquid, and brings it over to Dad: bottle in mouth, smiling Dad, sleeping baby, smiling Mum, family cuddles. The whole ad is underpinned by Mum’s disembodied whisper about how much she loves baby, and it’s interesting to note that words like “protect” and “amazing” are rolled out when the bottle is in shot.

Not from the ad
Now, I’m not saying that bottles have no place in breastfeeding. Many parents find that ability to leave expressed milk for their babies when they go to work or elsewhere means that they can avoid formula altogether. That’s great. Important also are the Mums who tirelessly express milk to preserve their supply while breastfeeding problems are ironed out. But this ad shows neither of these scenarios. The Mum is in the same bloomin’ room. The whole thing rides on the back of years of formula marketing which profligates the message that Dads should bottle feed in order to bond with baby, along with thousands of ‘well-meaning’ mother-in-laws in a chorus of “you’re hogging that child”. We now know that the action of a baby suckling is the best way to balance milk supply and that breastfeeding isn't simply about the milk itself, but about the physical act of feeding. We know, for instance, that the mother's body ‘reads’ pathogens from the baby and their shared environment to produce milk with the required antibodies for that point in time, and that milk produced for a three month old has a different composition to the milk of a toddler. Pumping, storing and bottle feeding is not an equal alternative. Necessary sometimes, but not equal, and certainly not required for Dad to bond. And that’s without even touching on the potential for nipple confusion or overfeeding that are associated with the use of a bottle.

Poster campaign
The accompanying poster ad, for some reason, seems to have gone in a completely different direction, proclaiming that a smorgasbord of bottles, teats and sterilisers are “everything you need to feed your baby”... except the boobs. They don’t say that last bit, which is kind of the problem.

It's Extraordinarily Pleased with Itself

The Innosense bottle’s tagline is ‘feeding from a new angle’ alluding to the fact that somebody has made the teat a bit jaunty to reduce the swallowing of air. The tagline for the entire range (as far as I can gather) is ‘making feeding that little bit more simple’. If Mothercare were really honest they’d concede that having to use a heap of accessories is always going to make feeding quite a lot more complicated, actually, and that there’s nothing wrong with whatever angle Mum’s boobs happen to sit at. Of course, as with all of this kind of advertising there is a queue of people ready to denounce anyone who complains as petty, over-thinking, and of being a member of the ‘breastapo’. What that doesn't take into account is that advertising makes a difference to more than just the people who are deciding what to buy. The Analytical Armadillo put it succinctly (if not cynically) when she said “Adverts don't influence what people use/buy, they're just a way for very rich companies to get rid of spare cash - they're actually a source of unbiased information, ask any marketing exec....” Of course, if the opposite were not true there wouldn't be billions spent on making us decide what to eat, wear, buy and think. Anyone who considers that they are not affected by advertising is, I’m afraid, utterly naive.

That said, I sincerely wish that the defenders are right. I hope that this blog post and all the complaints about Mothercare's most recent endeavour represent a massive waste of breath because the Innosense range will have no bearing whatsoever on any future breastfeeding relationship. I fear that my wish is in vain.

Michelle Atkin's awesome spoof of the Mothercare ad. Check out her breastfeeding coach page here.

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