Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Nescafé and Netmums equation

We have been contacted by people concerned that the website Netmums has entered into a deal with Nestlé to promote Nescafé.

It is easy to see why Nestlé has persued this deal.

Nestlé is the most boycotted company in the UK because of the way it pushes its baby foods, contributing to the unnecessary death and suffering of infants around the world.

The principal target of the boycott is Nescafé coffee.

Public relations experts, Saatchi and Saatchi, suggested Nestlé should support good causes, particularly those linked to children, to build up a reservoir of good will for times of crisis - the suggestion was made in a marketing magazine when the UK Advertising Standards Authority ruled that Nestlé had failed to substantiate its claim that it markets infant formula 'ethically and responsibly'. See:

So the equation for Nestlé is straightforward. Boycotted because of its aggressive baby food marketing ---> promote Nescafé through a mothering website to try to maintain sales and improve the company's image.

Now why is Netmums falling for this? Unless they did so anonymously, I am not aware of anyone asking Baby Milk Action for our views on whether it would undermine the boycott - which it clearly does for the reasons set out above.

Like any non-profit organisation, Netmums requires funding. On their public forum it explains its decision and advertising policy as follows:

---Quote begins
Hi girls

That advert shouldn't have gone live just then, its still being tweaked but got put live in error - but it'll be back soon and now that you're here, can I explain our reasons for accepting this advert?

Netmums does need advertising to exist - we now have (what I consider to be) enormous technical costs and a fairly hefty monthly bill for salaries, print, professional fees etc.

We do have an advertising policy, which I've copied for you at the bottom here.

Nescafe is a coffee advertised in every magazine, paper and tv channel (even GMTV weather is sponsored by Nestle Whole Grain I saw this week). Trinny and Susannah are the faces of nescafe. It is sold by every supermarket, garage and corner shop.

Nestle still arent whiter then white but neither are loads of other big organisations ..and I dont think Netmums can always be the final frontier - we cant fight all the big fights (tho to be fair to us we do fight quite a few eg the battle for health visitors and for government recognition of mums).

If we don't finance ourselves, we'll just end up disappearing into thin-cyberspace.

So my decision was, that we can do more good with this money than without it. I hope you understand. I wish the world was perfect.

Here's that ad policy...
Siobhan x

Advertising Policy

Netmums is a social enterprise, working to support families in their communities.

In the absence of social funding, revenue to pay for the costs of running of the network comes from corporate and local advertising. Netmums ensures that the promotions it accepts are relevant to parents and fit appropriately within the Netmums website.

Netmums is concerned about the health and welfare of children and works hard to campaign on issues around parental support, flexible working, postnatal depression and junk food and will not take advertising that conflicts with these campaigns.

Netmums does not accept advertising of medicinal or weight-loss products.

Netmums defines acceptable advertising by product and not by corporation.

Netmums cannot vet the detailed social and environmental record of all products, brands, and corporations, but expects brands to have a good record on environmental and employment issues, good customer relations and to be family-friendly
---quote ends

We come across the 'financial imperative' again and again and, as a non-profit organisation ourselves, totally understand it. However, we have a very different take on things. We accept no funding or advertising from corporations. In practice this does mean that we cannot do as much work as we would like. Sometimes staff (and there are only three paid staff plus a book keeper) go onto part-time contracts to keep the organisation solvent.

We campaign generally for corporate accountability and so it is our decision that it is better to do less than undermine what we are doing through inappropriate financial arrangements. As Netmums says, if you dig then you may find issues with other companies. As an organisation working with partners around the world we could find a corporation is taking action of which we were unaware that is having a negative impact on the people we work with. How shameful that would then be for us if we were taking money from them and what a coup to the corporation. So we have a blanket ban on commercial funding and we encourage other organisations to at least have a clear funding policy. It is great to see Netmums has a policy to which they can refer.

On the Netmums policy we could argue that Nescafé, the target of the UK's biggest boycott, is not a brand with 'good customer relations', nor is it 'family-friendly'. Netmums also has a campaign against junk food advertising to children - and I believe Nestlé has the highest advertising spend in this area (though not specifically for Nescafé). Clearly they have made a different judgement.

As this is already being discussed on the public forum on the Netmums site, I am responding publicly, but will also contact Netmums directly to raise these issues.

If they have decided to link with Nestlé, the worst of the baby food companies, then at the very least we hope they will not get into defending its record. This is what we sometimes see happening. An organisation becomes embarassed by the complaints it receives from its supporters and so tries to suggest there is not really anything wrong with Nestlé. If that happens then we do have to become involved more directly - for example, we reported a charity to the Charity Commissioners in the past for making untrue statements about Nestlé after taking money.

It has been suggested that we promote a boycott of Netmums and encourage people to resign their memberships.

I am reluctant to launch a campaign on this for two reasons.

Firstly, I am rather busy. Our aim is to get Nestlé and other companies to change their baby food marketing practices and for governments to regulate and monitor the baby food industry. Promoting the boycott is part and parcel of that, but every action has to be considered carefully for its potential to achieve progress. Having an argument with Netmums is not necessarily going to be the best use of our limited resources.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the Nescafé advertising provides a great OPPORTUNITY for existing and new Netmum members to raise the boycott and spread the word about Nestlé malpractice on the Netmums sites. Nestlé is the most boycotted company in the UK and one of the most boycotted on the planet, not because of what we do. But because of what you do in spreading the word.

I try to be philosophical whenever Nestlé opens its cheque book to try to counter the boycott in ways such as this. Wherever Nestlé rears its head boycott supporters can remind people of its aggressive marketing of baby foods in breach of international marketing standards and its human rights abuses.

Nestlé is paying for the advertising and with the thread it has already prompted on the Netmums site many people who were unaware of the boycott now are.

There is, of course, also potential for boycott supporters to promote the demonstration at Nestlé (UK) HQ in Croydon and Body Shop outlets around the country taking place on 19 May and Nestlé-free week 2-8 July. See:

Netmums has local bulletin boards where I imagine it would be possible to promote local Nestlé-boycott events. I am sure that Netmums would claim that advertiser have no control over content on the site, so would be very surprised if such threads are removed or censored.

It is up to each Netmums member to make their own decision and consider what would be their most effective action. I hope at least they will investigate the issue by taking a look at our website and this blog. If you are a member and decide to resign over this, please do spell out the reasons why to Netmums.

And it would be good to let Nestlé know that you will not be buying Nescafé regardless. You can do so my completing our on-line boycott petition and by calling Nestlé's Customer Services. This is a freephone number. You can see what happened when I called yesterday by clicking here. This includes a link to Youtube, where you will find the code for including the film clip on other sites.

So that is my advice to boycott supporters. Don't get mad. Get campaigning!!

If you are a Netmums member or not, please do leave your views here. These are sensitive issues and we are always keen to hear what people think.


Anonymous said...

I'm a netmums user and don't give two hoots where the sponsoship comes from.The world isn't perfecet and boycotting Nestle is hardly gonna give them an itch!
Instead of boycotting nestle how about doing something productive and that will actually make a difference.....give money to provide wells and clean water.Some of you seem like nothing but a bunch of breastfeeding vigilantes who only care about the fact that people actually feed via bottle-pathetic.
Have you even thought for one second how many lives are saved due to bottle feeding.I can't imagine you have.In this world everything has to be balanced and I suggest you remember that

Anonymous said...

Out of interest Mike, why is netmums sponsorship concerning you so greatly ? Are you one of the fantastic people that uses the site for support, advice,friendships and having a laugh? You say you are posting on the thread regarding nescafe in your blog, but having an avid interst in the thread myself i see no posts by mike !!! and there is only one non regular member thats been posting, but i find it hard to believe that is you, as this lady claims she helps mothers breastfeed, something you dont mention in your blog profile ?
So who exactly are you and what is it you are trying to gain from all of this, because im a tad confused as to why you have seemingly registered as a lady, on a site with plenty of other men to leave messages accusing people who formula feed of feeding their babys junk food, so on and so forth !
Some impression youve left me with, and what right does any man who can never possibly experience breast feeding to judge women who choose or are forced not to?

Mike Brady said...

In response to the second comment, I am not posting on Netmums. As I said in the blog, I have far too much else on to get involved in an argument with or on the netmums site. I have spelt out above why Nestlé's link to the site should be a concern to anyone concerned about infant health and mothers' rights. For further information on what Nestlé is doing and how to support the boycott, see other blogs and our website

No doubt I'll return to this topic in a future blog.

Anonymous said...

As a long term Netmums user I have decided to cancel my membership. I am disgusted and disappointed that a site, which used to be all about caring for women and babies can suddenly do such a u-turn faced with the temptation of big corporation money. Nestle must be laughing in their boardrooms. What mugs Netmums are being. What a shame it has come to this.

Anonymous said...

I'm a netmum too. I tried to start a new thread yesterday for netmums boycotting Nestle but it was removed! While netmums owners claim not to be endorsing Nestle by accepting sponsorship I don't think they would have censored such debate before accepting their money would they.

tracy said...

OMG, what on earth was a parenting forum thinking in accepted nestle sponsorship!
If anybody is offended by complaints about this because they formula fed can't possibly understand the issues. It's not about bashing formula feeding mums (who I don't blame, they usually have been let down by health professionals or victims of many years of clever marketing techniques) but about protecting babies. People are making a profit at the cost of other people's lives.
I'm sure if the consequences of unsafe bottlefeeding were shown on TV like Comic Relief or Children in Need most people (and not just raving lactivists)would be outraged and wanting to help.
Whether the boycott works or not, I couldn't possibly give a penny to such an unethical company.

Anonymous said...

In response to the netmums who had her thread deleted it's my understanding that duplicate threads are against netmums rules and therefore all such threads no matter what the subject are automatically removed. Also debates are not allowed but netmums has allowed a very long debating thread on the subject of Nestle's sponsorship to run enabling a supporter of baby milk action to post a large number of links to this blog so it's wholly inaccurate to suggest that netmums has censored anything because they haven't. If you really were a genuine netmums member you would know the rules wouldn't you?

Anonymous said...

And while we're on the subject of potential censorship people posting on the netmums thread weren't required to meet owner approval before their comments went live!!!!

Mike Brady said...

In response to the above comment, if you spend any time on blogger you realise that if you don't have moderated comments, you get ten saying: "Great site. Check out this one..." with a link to a site for loans/viagra/diplomas etc.

It is nothing malicious.

In addition, Netmums removes postings that are offensive and I would follow the same approach here.

Mike Brady said...

I responded to the above comments on my blog:

I'll try to keep track and respond on a future blog to any comments left here since then.

Anonymous said...

i too have been using netmums a while - about 12mth - & even thou i had heard of the nestle boycot i dont actually support it i mentioned the forum post to my mom & dad & other older family & friends ALL thought the boycot had been lifted so it shows how much of a great job the boycott is doing concerning the general public
i am discusted by one particular "members" attitude & verbal attacks on other people on the netmums forum she was repetedly requested to stop certain comments if she was a propper member she would have known the entire post was against netmums rules but they allowed it in good faith & also allowed a lot of links & comments that would normally have been edited out
i am personally offended by some of the comments of this said "member" all this person has done is generate negative feelings to what COULD have been been an ideal place to get the boycott some much needed advertisement but in my view more harm than good has been done & she has upset a few longstanding lovely netmums members & should be ashamed but i doubt she will

Anonymous said...

I made a comment today on netmums with reference to the boycott - referring to the Guardian article on Bangladesh of the the 15.5.07. I posted on the breastfeeding board at 9am on a Saturday morning. My post was deleted in under 10 minutes. Clearly they want to smother any debate. I have been a member of netmums for around 3 years - no more. Isn't Nestle clever - what an excellent way to gain access to parenting population via an organisation clearly more than happy to do their bidding.

Mike Brady said...

For a later blog on this topic see:

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