Advertising and Marketing

Breast feeding plummets; baby formula ads blamed

China's Consumer Association recently issued a report on the market for infant formula in 30 Chinese cities. It found only a low percentage of moms who were exclusively feeding their newborns breast milk in the first 6 months. Nearly a third of mothers fed their babies a mixture of breast milk and formula, while almost 14% of moms weren't breast feeding at all in the first 6 months.

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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There are currently 4 Comments for Breast feeding plummets; baby formula ads blamed.

Comments on Breast feeding plummets; baby formula ads blamed

nice article. Great Artwork.

Chinese breast milk formula tastes like White Rabbit Candy. Ask my boy, he'll tell you the same.

I interviewed a woman called Ivy from the La Leche League (link) about a year ago and she told me that Chinese doctors pushed milk suppliment onto mothers claiming that a baby needs extra calcium, zinc or iron supplements in contrast to the League's stance that a fully breastfed baby doesn't require them if under six months old.

She also told me that women who have recently given birth will find free samples of formula milk arriving at their door despite it being illegal for doctors to pass on personal information to companies.

That would certainly tie in with your theory of distribution channels which, almost certainly, involve backhanders.

This is a global issue. Readers may be interested on the situation with respect to marketing of breast milk substitutes in the Philippines. See this URL

We breastfeed our baby exclusively for a year (breastmilk and water only for the first 4 months, then breastmilk, water and food after that). Considering the cases of salmonella in other countries that the big formula producers use to dump their excess product on we weren't going near the stuff. Besides, everything that I read showed that breast milk is superior to formula (unless you have a problem breast feeding of course). Our son moved right from formula to cow's milk after 1 year.

This is not to say that we had formula pushed on us by doctors - especially the doctor that came to check on my wife a week after the birth. She brought a sample pack of formula produced close to Shenzhen (where our son was born) which sat on the shelf until we eventually threw it away.

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