An Open Letter to Rufus Griscom, CEO of Babble.com: Why is the Similac Booby Trap Back?

Do you remember Phdinparenting’s fantastic post, ”Similac and Babble.com Team Up to Dupe Breastfeeding Moms“?  In the aftermath of outraged reader comments, letters to Babble.com, a flurry of Twitter activity and a frenzy of posts on various Facebook pages (including ours), Babble.com quietly removed the formula ads from the whole breastfeeding guide except the “Supplementing with Formula” section.  I was still not happy with the some of the content of the breastfeeding guide itself, and disappointed that Rufus Griscom, CEO of Babble.com never responded to my email (although he responded personally to several others) but decided to let it go.   We would have applauded Babble.com if they had taken ownership of their actions but even though they didn’t, I was relieved that at least, the millions of parents that read their website would not be lured into the boobytrap of calling a formula company for breastfeeding “answers”.  

 Well, the Babble.com/Similac Booby Trap is back.   In the process of writing a post on influencing the media  (haha, ironic, I know), I noticed that Similac ads are now rotating throughout the Breastfeeding Guide again, along with Huggies, Target & Medela ads (keep clicking, eventually you’ll see the formula hotline ads again).   If you need a refresher on why this is so damaging, and why both breastfeeding AND formula-feeding moms are so angry, I encourage you to read the 205 comments to Phdinparenting’s original post, including the comment from Rufus Griscom and the response he got

Because ultimately I feel that Rufus Griscom and his wife Alisa Volkman, Babble.com Co-founder/VP of Sales Strategy, didn’t hear the concerns of moms, I thought it would be a good time to share the email that I sent them, in the hopes that they will respond this time around. 

 September 9, 2009

Hi Rufus & Alisa,

First of all we wanted to thank you for commenting on Phdinparenting.com’s post about Similac advertising on your website, and for visiting our Facebook page and posting comments there too over Labor Day weekend.
 
We appreciate that Babble does have content that is truly supportive of breastfeeding, and regularly share it with our 10,000+ followers on Facebook and Twitter.  We are also very grateful that Babble helped us spread the word about our new PSA Ad that launched in USA Today, and our upcoming BYOBoobz(tm) house parties.   We rely on hugely popular websites like Babble, and our friends at AOL News, People.com and Fit Pregnancy to help us give breastfeeding a makeover and get the word out that it’s the Booby Traps that we need to fight, not moms! (What are the Booby Traps? See http://www.bestforbabes.org/breastfeeding-booby-traps/) So I am asking for your help*
 
Would you be open to gaining a better understanding of why so many moms, both breastfeeding and formula-feeding, are upset about the new Similac ad campaign?  These ads are not just on your site but everywhere expecting and new mothers can be found.   Unfortunately, the WHO Code (created by the World Health Organization & Unicef) in the U.S. has no teeth—it is simply not enforceable legally. Therefore, although most medical organizations, policy experts and health professionals agree that mothers and babies deserve special protection from predatory marketing (similar to children in our schools), there is not much in place to stop these types of ads, or to compete with them.  Breastfeeding non-profits simply do not have the funds–yet–to fight predatory marketing and to mount large scale PSA advertising campaigns; although Best for Babes hopes to be able to fill this role eventually.
 
We understand that competition among parenting websites is fierce but I see this as an opportunity to for Babble to separate itself from the pack.   Breastfeeding is a hot topic and Babble could establish itself as a media leader by declaring an editorial and advertising policy that protects the rights of parents to make an informed decision and to achieve their personal breastfeeding goals (whether that goal is to breastfeed for 2 weeks, 2 months, 2 years, or not at all–we support all parents, and look to increase access to donor milk if needed).  You have already begun the first stage of implementing that policy by removing the Similac ads from the breastfeeding guide!   We understand that it would take some time to wean Babble off of formula ads (sorry for the bad pun) but believe that some of our corporate sponsors could potentially help fill in the gap; insurance companies also stand to benefit from increased breastfeeding rates.
 
Best for Babes would love nothing more than to help and to rally the entire breastfeeding community, including the United States Breastfeeding Committee, behind Babble if we can find a way to work together.  

 Thank you for your consideration!
 
Best,
Bettina & Danielle

Co-Founders, Best for Babes® Foundation

*emphasis added.



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10 Responses to An Open Letter to Rufus Griscom, CEO of Babble.com: Why is the Similac Booby Trap Back?

  1. Well said. Again! I just hope Babble will listen & respond to your reasoned argument. It’s high time they understood their responsibility to protect parents and their babies from cynical advertising and to provide unbiased information. As you say, it’s an opportunity for Babble to lead the way here – I hope they can see that ethical behaviour is the way forward for them, and will only generate good press. Coming from a country which DOES have the WHO code, I can only sympathise with the difficulties you face here. Marketing companies always come up with ways to get around the rules, but the situation in American is particularly bad. However, I applaud the way in which you continue to fight to protect everyone from misinformation. Good luck with your continued campaign!

  2. SuZ says:

    Very well said. I agree with you, Babble could lead the way and work with breastfeeding Moms and make history (dare I say?)

    Do you know if anyone has ever called the “breastfeeding” hotline? I am curious to know what they help us with…

    I’m going to share this with all the breastfeeding Mamas I know.

  3. Kate says:

    I just went through it twice and didn’t see it…

  4. AliChapTX says:

    Man! I really liked Babble. They seemed like a safe place. I’m so sorry to see them participating in the same b.s. you see on every other website. There are so few places on the internet I feel safe from ethically poor marketing judgment calls.

  5. RSS says:

    I just went to the front page of the baby section on the Babble site. I clicked on the “breastfeeding guide”. It automatically brings the user to the supplementing section instead of the overview.

  6. Tracie says:

    Yup. An ad for Similac on the “Common Breastfeeding Problems” page. Definitely predatory. Having problems breastfeeding? Don’t call a certified LC, turn to formula!

  7. Thank you ladies for sending this letter!

  8. It’s so frustration that money seems more important to big companies who clearly could afford to take a stand and say not to the money that is being thrown at them by big formula companies. Greed is so not sexy…

    Thanks for being on top of this and calling Babble.com out — again. I won’t visit Babble again — won’t be a huge loss as I never really went to their site anyway.

    Dagmar
    Dagmar’s momsense
    @DagmarBleasdale

  9. So wait – Babble only has 10,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter combined? This makes me think their readership can’t be nearly as huge as we all think it is. I have more than half that, and I never consider myself “hugely popular”. Annie has several times their amount, and while she’s popular, she’s not an entire parenting site like they are. If bloggers my size and Annie’s size can exist without jumping in bed with Similac, then what in the world is Babble’s excuse? I know they pay their writers, but there is money to be had elsewhere. FuzziBunz and Hygeia took wonderful care of me for BlogHer and they are both fully responsible companies. There are plenty of places to get “clean” money – it seems Babble just doesn’t want it.

    • Bettina says:

      Unfortunately, Facebook & Twitter followers doesn’t mean as much as visitors and pageviews to their website, which is where advertisers put their money. Babble.com is starting to outcompete Babycenter.com, the leading website, with 4 million unique visitors per month and 12 million visitors! Kellymom.com which is the largest breastfeeding site gets 200,000 unique visitors per month. Kellymom.com gets 100k unique visitors per month, Phdinparenting gets 25k per month, far less in terms of mainstream traffic & visibility. :-( Hopefully someday that will change!!

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