Advertising and Marketing
Posted by Maya Alexandri on Monday, August 6, 2007 at 9:25 PM
The report concludes that an important reason for these statistics is aggressive advertising by infant formula companies. After hearing infant formula ads touting the product's "nutritious matter beneficial to children's brain development," 57% of mothers were willing to buy formula.
According to the report, much of this advertising is illegal. Under Chinese consumer protection regulations, ads can't claim or hint that a product is a replacement for breast milk. Nor are ads permitted to use images of breast feeding women and babies. Nonetheless, infant formula companies often flout these regulations and engage in other forms of "stealth" advertising and product placement, including promotional give-aways and sponsorship of health hot lines or baby feeding forums.
Whether and to what extent Chinese consumers credit the information conveyed by these advertisements is an interesting question. On the one hand, infant formula advertising exploits a powerful hope: that a better future for baby is as easy as buying the right product. Everyone wants the best for their newborn, and it's easy to be persuaded by such a tempting fantasy.
On the other hand, skepticism about news and other media is not unusual in China. Consumers might cast a critical eye on advertising, as well as news, especially since the advertiser's commercial motive is obvious.
Moreover, it's at least possible that — when it comes to infant formula — the information Chinese consumers credit comes not from advertising, but from doctors. Even though it's illegal for hospitals to feed infant formula to babies, almost 63% of babies receive formula in Chinese hospitals anyway. In an article about the report, National Business Daily quotes an industry expert who said that young parents will follow their doctor's recommendations and will hesitate to switch brands from the formula fed to their baby in a hospital. With respect to infant formula then, the key factor might be distribution channels, not advertising.
Either way, infant formula is exerting its influence on consumers through illegal means. Because China's consumer protection laws go largely unenforced, Chinese consumers must weigh market information under challenging conditions. They can't trust that there's a baseline of reliability to commercial information; if advertisers lie, or manipulate the channels for distribution, the consequences to them are negligible. It's Chinese society, rather, that pays the price.
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