The world already knows that parents and mothers are exposed to aggressive marketing of baby formula milks. Well, a new World Health Organisation report showed how Formula milk companies are paying social media platforms and influencers to gain direct access to pregnant women and mothers at some of the most vulnerable moments in their lives.
The report Scope and impact or digital marketing strategies for promoting breast milk substitutes said that global formula milk industry, valued at some 55 billion dollar, is targeting new mothers with personalized social media content that is often not recognizable as advertising.
EXPOSURE AND IMPACT
The WHO mentions that digital marketing strategies dramatically increase the reach and impact of breast milk substitute’s promotions. “Digital technologies offer advertisers new marketing tools that are powerfully persuasive, extremely cost effective and often not easily recognizable as breast-milk substitute’s promotions,” the report said.
NEW MARKETING TECHNIQUES
The Formula milk companies use tools like apps, virtual support groups or ‘baby-clubs’, paid social media influencers, promotions and competitions and advice forums or services. They also buy or collect personal information and send personalized promotions to new pregnant women and mothers.
Digital marketing techniques enable breast-milk substitutes advertisers to identify pregnant women and mothers in online spaces, identify their deepest concerns by observing or engaging them in conversation, exploit their most vulnerable moments, disguise their marketing content as information or advice and enlist people women respect most to influence their infant feeding choices. “Digital platforms feed breast-milk substitutes promotions directly to the screens of pregnant women and mothers, respond instantaneously to the concerns they express, use respected influencers to shape feeding decisions, generate word-of-mouth endorsements for breast milk substitute products and establish online support groups to build positive associations with breast-milk substitutes brands,” the report said.
The companies know that low-cost and effective methods increase purchasing behaviour as measured by sales.
REGULATION OF DIGITAL MARKETING
The report stated that less than one in five countries (19%) prohibits promotion of breast milk substitutes on the internet, social media, or other digital platforms. Digital technologies enable advertisers to evade scrutiny from enforcement agencies by delivering breast-milk substitutes promotions to personal accounts without ever publishing them on broadcast media. Moreover, the report stated that it was difficult to hold formula milk companies accountable for breast-milk substitutes promotions generated in virtual support groups by the public and mothers, including social media influencers, who are not direct employees or contractors of those companies.
The report summarizes findings of new research that sampled and analyzed four million social media posts about infant feeding published between January and June 2021 using a commercial social listening platform. These posts reached 2.47 billion people and generated more than 12 million likes; shares or comments. The report said that formula milk companies post content on their social media accounts around 90 times per day, reaching 229 million users; representing three times as many people as are reached by informational posts about breastfeeding from non-commercial accounts.
POWERFUL AND INSIDIOUS MARKETING TECHNIQUES
“The promotion of commercial milk formulas should have been terminated decades ago,” said Dr Francesco Branca, Director of the WHO Nutrition and Food Safety department.
“The fact that formula milk companies are now employing even more powerful and insidious marketing techniques to drive up their sales is inexcusable and must be stopped,” said Branca.
WHO has called on the baby food industry to end exploitative formula milk marketing, and on governments to protect new children and families by enacting, monitoring and enforcing laws to end all advertising or other promotion of formula milk products