Booby Traps Series: Direct-to-mom formula marketing, or “How did all that formula end up on my doorstep?”

401px-Enfamil_Formula_(2457208915)Did you wake one morning to find a case of formula you never ordered on your doorstep?

Here’s one way it may have ended up there.

For years formula companies have relied on hospitals to promote their products through “gift bags” given to moms as they leave.  They have been a very effective marketing tool,*  but they’re slowly but surely on the way out.  The decline in the distribution of these bags has been been documented in research and also in our survey of you.

So if you were one of those companies and you wanted to continue to recruit new customers, how else could you do it?  Where do pregnant and new moms go, both in person and online?

UntitledWell, pregnant moms need clothes.  And many of them purchase maternity clothes at one of a few chain stores.  Let’s take a look at one of those.

Destination Maternity, which operates Motherhood Maternity and A Pea in the Pod, is the world’s largest maternity apparel retailer with over 1,700 retail locations in the U.S., Canada, India and the Middle East.

As of a few years ago Destination Maternity had 35% to 45% market share of the US maternity apparel business, and was poised to grow, according to one business analysis.  It also supplies maternity clothes to department stores, including Kohl’s, Sears, and Macy’s.

Destination Maternity also has a business partnership with Mead Johnson, makers of Enfamil.  This partnership is displayed on their website (see above image).

When mothers shop at Motherhood Maternity, they are encouraged to sign up for a “perks” program to “save up to $400″ through coupons, samples, and discounts from their preferred partners (if you sign up online you’d have to know to scroll down to see who thees partners are).  When mothers who sign up for this program their information shared with a formula company, and that’s how formula samples appear on their doorsteps.

An astonishing 70% of you told us that you received formula gifts (including samples) in the mail when you hadn’t requested them.  And many of you told us that Motherhood is the only place where you shopped for maternity items.  One of you even entered a fake name to see if you’d receive samples addressed to that name, and you did!

This is one form of direct-to-consumer marketing of formula.  It comes in other forms, too, such as online advertising (Enfamil actually created a page heading which read “the breastmilk formula” a few years ago), television ads with product placement tie-ins on reality baby shows, and magazines.

All of these forms of marketing are violations of the World Health Organization’s Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, which explicitly prohibits both direct-to-mother advertising of formula and marketing through providing samples.

Did you receive formula samples in the mail?  Do you think that the companies got your information from a maternity store?

* Not sure why those bags are harmful to breastfeeding?  Check out this post.

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2 Comments | Last revised on 12/05/2013

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