June 2007 â€“ The formula industry has enlisted two international PR firms to defend hospital-based marketing of infant formula.
The two sites, babyfeedingchoice.org and Momsfeedingfreedom.com, were registered in early March, just a week after The Wall Street Journal reported that more and more hospitals are abandoning hospital-based formula marketing. Both sites are funded by the International Formula Council.
Babyfeedingchoice.org was registered by Kellen Communications, an international PR firm whose â€œsuccess storiesâ€ include responding to the Alar apple scare and promoting the health benefits of margarine, a source of trans-fats.
Babyfeedingchoice.org links to MomsFeedingFreedom.com, describing it as a grass-roots site launched by a concerned mother in Massachusetts. In fact, MomsFeedingFreedom.com is registered to E Nilsson LLC, an international web consulting firm whose clients include Romney for President and Pfizer. The mother is Kate Kahn, a corporate communications strategist based in Boston.
Both sites use classic formula company strategies, paying lip service to benefits of breastfeeding even as they promote formula. When breastfeeding is mentioned, itâ€™s a chore and a bother. For example, MomsFeedingFreedom.com asks visitors to share personal stories, such as advice from â€œA sister who filled you in on the age-old remedy of ace bandages to ease aching breasts.â€ The language deliberately describes breastfeeding as primitive, messy, and painful.
When it comes to talking about formula marketing, host Kate Kahn dismisses scientific evidence that hospital-based marketing as â€œridiculous,â€ arguing that women are too smart to be swayed by a gift bag.
Online readers arenâ€™t buying the argument. Posting in the siteâ€™s online discussion group, one visitor writes, â€œOne meme of these formula-industry shills is that â€˜women are too smartâ€™ to be swayed by advertising. Isn’t it ironic that this tired and deeply flawed rhetoric is being touted on a website that is nothing more than an extension of the formula industry’s advertising/lobbying efforts?â€
The industryâ€™s public relations campaign reflects the powerful influence of hospital-based formula marketing on consumer behavior. As a Ross Pediatrics sales manual states, â€œNever underestimate the importance of nurses. If they are sold and serviced properly, they can be strong allies. A nurse who supports Ross is like an extra salesperson.â€ (Abbott Labs v. Segura, 1995).
Formula companies count on hospital-based marketing to establish brand loyalty and undermine breastfeeding. â€œThe data are clear: when hospitals distribute formula samples, women are less likely to breastfeed successfully,â€ says Dr. Alison Stuebe, an obstetrician and womenâ€™s health researcher at Brigham and Womenâ€™s Hospital in Boston, MA.
As one blog visitor writes, â€œName one other hospital ward where the nurses promote a product and send you home with a gift bag. You don’t go in for lung cancer treatment and walk out with a carton of cigarettes. You don’t go in for obesity surgery and walk out with a box of donuts. If breastfeeding is best, why should a mother leave the hospital with baby junk food?â€