Monday, October 29, 2007

Wyeth/SMA television ad still running in the UK as we await action from the ASA

A while ago I wrote about the Wyeth television advertisement in the UK promoting the brand name through a father making promises to his partner about how he would support her, including with 'night feeds'.

Today I received another complaint from a member of the public as it was shown at the weekend.

We have still not received a ruling from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) on the advertisement, having called for it to investigate.

My earlier blog includes a link where you can investigate the advertisement for yourself. See:

The following analysis was posted on that entry by Morgan Gallagher, which I think makes very interesting reading. It makes the point very well that the advertisement is not imparting accurate information about infant feeding, it is promoting a positive emotional reaction to the brand, which is a poor basis for deciding how to feed a child.

As you say Mike, the ad is very very clever. The cleverness is multi-layered, not least of which is how it skirts the guidelines on formula advertising to suggest prior formula use whilst pretending to be about follow-on milk.

It's also very British. It's using a film style very reminiscent of British Kitchen Sink dramas, although it has soft focussed it a little to make it modern and accessable to a larger advertising audience. But the iconography of the kitchen sink, the bedroom, the sitting at the old fashioned dressing table, is all quintessential British soap opera territory. A world slightly grimy, slightly ragged and not quite all USA, or Australian, soap opera clean and shiny newness. It's more 'true to life' which is how British TV audiences prefer their drama - with a thin veneer of actuality. Although the aspirational marketing of the product requires it to pitch to the upper end of the spectrum, even this is well done within the framework of it being about everyday families - as it's toys and 'baby sick' that mess up the not quite got there yet feel of the piece. So whilst it's not Perfect Persil Advert Houses, it's just a little short of that advertising ideal. The kitchen isn't quite all matching, the bedroom a bit gloomy in the night, but the living room in the mother in law section, and the garden in the adoration of the madonna without an actual child in her arms, is middle class in its construction. The message is clear here that SMA understands where you're coming from, and where you're hoping to end up, and using SMA is part of that upwardly mobile agenda.

It's also a very clever address to the demographic: first time mothers. Whilst being up front in it's 'new man' appeal, as it's a father speaking, it's all totally about fulfilling the fantasies of the woman. In perfect Mills & Boons cadences, we see the man/husband/father enact a love sonnet to the woman/wife/mother, that treasures her for her domestic skills, still sees her as a vital sexual object as the same time as a mother, defends her against interfering well intentioned mothers in law and gives her emotional space to be 'her own person' whilst he frees her up to be that physically by 'holding the baby' for her.

This part is actually the most disturbing area for me, as it's using the pseudo feminist agenda that's always been used to promote formula, in a subtle and insidious manner. Actually holding the baby in this ad is very problematic for the mother. She's in the night exhausted by her crying baby, she's being criticised by her MiL, she's even covered in baby sick smell when she's fresh and showered and wanting to go out for the evening and doesn't even have the baby with her. Mothering is presented as something that is demeaning and demoralising to her: hence the need for the husband to step in support, encourage and praise her for her efforts. He is rescuing her, by using formula to 'free' her from the constrictions of motherhood. He's being a modern White Knight and needs no pure white steed and shining sword, merely a pure white bottle of formula to slay the dragon that has enslaved her. He can literally take feeding the baby off her hands, and give her a 'break' from overwhelming drudgery.

This message about mothering, and motherhood, is so deeply ingrained in our culture, that most people would look at what I've written and say "So what, all that is true?" Well, it may be true in a formula world, where babies and mothers have to be seperated in order to 'let others have a go at feeding' and to 'give Mum a break' but it doesn't reflect the actuality of my world as a mother, and doesn't reflect that of most mothers I know. Keeping baby beside you in order to breastfeed is easier, less work and far more personally rewarding than handing them over to others whilst you 'escape' to the garden for some 'me time'. Mothering _is_ 'me time' in my world, and I'm heartily sick of the view of it constructed so effortlessly, and so 'naturally' in this ad.

In my world, it's not mothering that takes it out of me - it's having to be all things to all people all the time and do it all in the home to boot. And when I'm tired and drained and fed up and exhausted _by life_, I don't need my husband to take my baby off my hands whilst I run off to the garden to be by myself. I need him to bring me hot cups of tea, empty the washing machine into the tumble dryer and cook dinner whilst I put my feet up and snuggle my baby to my breast and flood myself with joy juice: another ingredient missing from formula.

It's no accident, however, that Eulogising Fantasy Husband doesn't do any of this in the advert, as that would undermine his manly status. Houseworking husbands in adverts have to be cheeky chappies taking the mick slightly, and that would not do here. So he has to stay adoring and loving but manly in his everyday Joe Bloggness, hence the shots of a stubble beard, crinkled gray t-shirts and not quite with-it expressions as he shares the 'burden' of a baby. All beautifully counterpointed by those not quite rugged but oh so manly arms lovingly holding and protecting his tiny baby. Softness and strength... bring me the Kleenex, oh no, wait.. bring me the Andrex...

Promoting the seperation of the mother and baby, in order to 'help' the mother out, is such a stalwart of the formula marketing machine, that it is easy to miss how potent that construction is in this advert.

Shock and horror at how comprehensively they're trumpeting formula use can actually mask _why_ this advert is so hideous.

For the hard marketing reality is that adverts don't sell products: they sell lifestyles.

It's the constructed lifestyle in this advert that is so offensive, and so damaging. For it's a lifestyle that requires formula to make good the damage a baby does to a woman's life. It peddles the ultimate formula message in the West - that women _need_ formula to save them from their babies. That formula fulfills some sort of vital support role in the life of the average mother. That breastfeeding is too hard, too difficult, too restricting. Too old fashioned. That modern women _need_ a substitute to enable them to live fulfilled lives as both an individual and as a mother. After all, the entire up front focal point of the advert is that Dad can also do some of the feeding to 'help Mum out'.

This ad does break Code - quite clearly in its construction of Dad giving night feeds - but it is also offensive in the message it sends out about how women cannot manage the simple act of feeding their baby normally. How they need an artificial product to make mothering a success. How they need others to take on 'the load' in order to thrive themselves. That they should, on some level, be grateful that such 'rescue' is available.

Formula feeding is a risk activity. The white powder in the can comes with such delights as salmonella - at no extra cost - and its unsuitability for the newborn stomach puts babies at risk of serious gut inflammation, infection and life long allergies. And that's before you get to the increased health risks from lack of human milk. Formula marketing not only denies these factual truths in its construction of happy healthy babies, thriving on an expensive and inferior artificial product, it suggests that mothers need this intervention to remain true to themselves. In order to sell their product, they have to put themselves between the mother and the baby: they have to create a need for their product. This advert is very clear in its construction of what the problem is: motherhood. In the SMA world, woman simpy aren't up to being mothers without SMA products. They cannot possibly juggle the demands the world makes on them, as woman, wives and mothers, without formula.

'Clever' just doesn't do justice to this ad. Here's hoping the makers manage some sleep... despite all that night feeding.


Anonymous said...

What a fantastic post. Puts into words I could not manage everything I feel about that advert and the Formula industry.

Anonymous said...

I Too Have complained to the A.S.A About the same advert and am still awaiting their investigation.Tom, Husband of a breastfeeding Mother.

Anonymous said...

You are all being ridiculous. Yes nestle are some what dubious company at times with you there but the advert in question is a beautiful advert which might actually make men listen and think yes I will go tell my wife/ partner how proud of her I am because maybe she doesn't realise I feel that way about her. I am a mother of three. I have breast fed and bottle fed all my children, when will you get it into your heads that some women try as hard as they might just can't breast feed and everyone should just stop giving women who can't such a hard time about it. I Love that advert, Long may it stay. I wonder if you have actually seen the full version as the mini version can be a little misleading but the full version is a treasure. Lorna, mother of Scarlet, Eden and Mia

Mike Brady said...

In response to lorna's comment above, the sentiments may be fine. If it was in an advertisement for soap powder or banks then fine if they want people to choose their products based on the emotional response.

But we are talking about the food for a child in the most important stage of its development outside the womb. Why should a mother choose SMA formula, rather than Cow & Gate or Aptamil? Because of the sentiments in this advertisement? That is a pretty poor basis, isn't it? And before someone says they are not influenced by such advertising, tell me why Wyeth is spending £2 million on the campaign.

Isn't it better that mothers who use formula make their choice after understanding the differences between the different formulas on the market and made a judgement on what was best for their child?

Companies do not provide objective information, which is why there are marketing requirements.

With your other point, I don't really understand why you say 'when will you get it into your heads...'

We campaign to protect babies fed on formula - as well as protecting breastfeeding. If you investigate the information that formula companies put out you see how disrespectful they are of their customers, even making claims that are untrue and hiding risks of formula that can easily be avoided by simple steps.

Follow the links to our 'safer formula' campaign for further information.

I should also point out that Wyeth/SMA is a separate company to Nestlé.

Anonymous said...

So if a mother can not do and I quote from your comment "the natural thing" and breast feed, what exactly does that make this woman in your eyes? Unatural... a freak? When you have two young children and spend hours battling to breast feed a very reluctant feeder, what do you suggest she does with the two small children? When the baby wants to breast feed for two hours during the school run where do you suggest she straps the newborn to? I'm dying to know. Sorry, what was that handy relatives? helpers? neighbours? In this, as you so frequently point out, modern world there are no helpers or neighbours and most of us have either tragically lost our families or they live too far away to be of any practial help. I was also so pleased to read that we are all so naive we couldn't possibly have our own interpretations of this advert. No we are all to be conned by this wicked advertising agency. Maybe it is because we feel so guilty that we don't all find motherhood and breast feeding so easy that we have snuck into the nursery to cuddle our babies as we prepare for our annual evening out; and therefore could have actually got baby sick on our poshest clothes, thus enabling the baby sick to combine with our perfume. That must be it. I shall now go and flog myself because I find it comforting watching my baby being held in her fathers strong arms. I appologise to the super mothers (oh and fathers) who have been involved in the article and it's comments for being such a sentimental, ill equipped mother. Claire, Leeds, mother of two.

Anonymous said...

Mike, I do not pick my infant formula based on fuzzy feeling as you put it. so what just because you the article involved is your opinion you only feel the need to comment on people who don't agree with you? I can't help but notice you have only commented based on the fact I don't agree with you. You could never and will never understand how a woman feels about these issues, the pressure that is involved; the depressing influence articles and attitudes like this can have. The pressure involved is enormous. You have coppied what is a potentially poisonous article to a woman who is already struggling, when you have no idea how women can feel at this time in their life. I would like to clarify once again that I do not pick my formula based on fuzzy feelings I have more intelligence than that. I would also like to remind anyone reading this of all the babies that have been fed formula and have lived to tell the tale. Lorna Apparently a misinformed mother of three.

Mike Brady said...

Let me ask a question.

Why does Wyeth/SMA run advertisements like this?

If it is not to promote their products by invoking an emotional response to their brand, as I have suggested, then what is the reason?

As I say repeatedly, it is up to a mother how she feed her child. It is a complex decision which she is best placed to make.

But how Wyeth advertises its products is something that can and should be questioned.

So why is it spending £2 million on this campaign? What is its motivation?

This is a serious question.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to give more credit to mums choosing how to feed their children.

For those of us who are stuck in the real world formula is essential for feeding a baby and I think mums think much harder about which product is right for them and not just what they have seen on the TV.

Of course SMA are trying to promote there product, we shouldn't forget that is what they do as a company and allow mums to view the information for themselves and make their own decision.

Maybe it's time to get off your high horse and back to reality where the rest of us are and support mums who struggle to breastfeed instead of acting all high and mighty.

Anonymous said...

Is it worse to use advertising to evoke an emotional response as you say, than by making nutirtional claims which could mislead mums into thinking it is better than breastmilk?

I can't help thinking that no matter what was said in the SMA advert you would complain because you have a grudge against formula even though it helps millions of mums raise healthy children.

You need to realise that for many mums formula is essential as they struggle to or are unable to breastfeed and your attitude victimises them when you should be showing support.

Mike Brady said...

Is it acting 'high and mighty' to expect companies to abide by the marketing requirements adopted by the World Health Assembly, which is made up of the world's health ministries?

Because that is all we are asking.

These marketing requirements prohibit company promotion and give responsibility to health workers to advise parents, whether they are breastfeeding or formula feeding.

The Royal Colleges have written to the government asking for it to be stopped because it misleads. They say only proper scientific studies should be presented so health workers can provide evidence-based advice to parents.

If health workers look at company information and find that it does not give them useful information on the products, then how on earth are mothers expected to base their decisions on it?

Anonymous said...

As far as I can see the advert doesn't make any false claims about being better than breast feeding or containing certain nutritants.

Anonymous said...

I am actually very offended by the analysis of the advert as laid out above. As a man I would do anything to help my partner and to bring up our child. However you seem to view this as me getting in the way of a mother raising her child rather than our child. What happened to being a family and parenting rather than mothering? Mothering is not demeaning and demoralising and I don't believe this advert protrays it as such. However it can be very tiring as shown by the advert.

I do believe babies should be breastfeeding, however I feel the argument ou have put across against this advert is more an attack at the cleverness of the markets and the lack of regulations against it. I don't feel it has mislead me but given an accurate reflection of what life is like with a baby.

I personally found the advert inspiring and I can't help thinking that you would have found a way to discredit this advert regardless of its content.

An offended parent of two.