Medela, an infant feeding bottle and breastpump company, decided nearly a year ago that they were no longer committed to adhering to the World Health Organisation Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (WHO Code). The Code covers the marketing (not the supply, but the marketing) of infant formulas, feeding bottles and teats, and foods marketed for infants younger than six months.
Many in the lactation community were disappointed by Medela’s move to repudiate the Code, as Medela was previously seen as a “white hat” company. Some authorities and organisations moved to expunge Medela from their sponsor lists and allowable conference exhibitors, in accordance with their codes of ethics – La Leche League and ILCA (International Lactation Consultant Association) among them. Medela didn’t care. Selling bottles and bottle-feeding is where the money is, and in the absence of any legal enforcement of the WHO Code, they know what side their bread is buttered.
Now they’ve gone a step further to the dark side. “Medela Mom Mavens” is an initiative which seems designed to recruit mothers to spam social networks. They’re calling the recruited mothers “breastfeeding ambassadors”. I’ve documented their advertising in some detail here, as Medela has somewhat of a history of erasing objected-to advertising. Here’s the recruitment intro:
Medela is a company that has been driven by the importance of breastfeeding and its health benefits to children and women for nearly half a century. As a result, Medela has created a group of breastfeeding ambassadors to share knowledge about the many benefits of breastfeeding, as well as breastfeeding advice, with other moms and moms-to-be.
As a part of a community of uniquely qualified women known as “Medela Mom Mavens,” your experience and your support could have a significant impact on women and their babies.
As a Medela Mom Maven you’ll have:
* A Chance to make a difference by teaching other moms about the benefits of breastfeeding
* A First Look at new Medela products
* A Voice to express your opinion to Medela
To qualify as a Maven, mothers need to answer a series of Yes/No questions, as follows:
I am a mom.
I am currently breastfeeding or have breastfed within the past six months.
I used Medela breastpump(s) to express milk for feedings and had an overall positive experience with the breastpump(s).
I am comfortable speaking with other women about my breastfeeding and/or breastpumping experiences.
I feel comfortable about recommending nursing to other moms.
I believe women should try to exclusively provide breast milk to their babies for the first six months of their lives.
I would find it rewarding to help educate other women on the health benefits of breastfeeding.
I would be comfortable recommending Medela breastpumps to moms and moms-to-be.
I would be willing to discuss breastfeeding issues and to recommend Medela in social networks, both online and face-to-face.
I would be willing to report back to Medela about my discussions on breastfeeding, pumping and Medela products.
(Optional) I would like to share with you some of my personal feelings about breastfeeding and/or breastpumping:
After recruiting Mavens by this process, Medela proceeds to instruct them on how to promote the Company:
I’M A MEDELA MOM MAVEN…NOW WHAT?
It’s time to share your knowledge with others! You probably know that there are countless venues to discuss breastfeeding, pumping and other parenting issues on the Web, Message boards, forums, user groups, online communities — these are all tools that bring mothers together, which is what being a Medela Mom Maven is all about.
WHERE CAN I SHARE MY KNOWLEDGE ABOUT BREASTFEEDING, PUMPING AND MEDELA?
Wherever you see conversations about breastfeeding, breast pumping, challenges facing working moms or parenting in general. Or where you see opportunities to start such a conversation and educate other moms. The possibilities are endless. Click here for a list of sites where breastfeeding is a frequent topic of conversation. If you’re looking for ways to meet other moms in your area mommy groups make an excellent starting point. Click here for a list of local groups in major cities across the country.
We also encourage you to engage other moms and moms-to-be in face-to-face discussions about breastfeeding. You may see an opportunity to bring up the subject at social outings, work, family gatherings, or during chance meetings.
Note especially that the Medela Mom Mavens are being asked to promote Medela bottles and teats, as Medela notes this specifically in their talking points for Mavens:
For mom and baby’s health, all Medela bottles, breastshields and kit components are made from polypropylene, a safe, durable Bisphenol-A (BPA)-free plastic. BPA is an industrial chemical used in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastic and there is ongoing debate on its potential harm to human health. For more on BPA, please visit www.medelabpafree.com.
This is another clear, deliberate, and blatant breach of the Code. Direct or indirect between a formula or bottle company’s PR people and mothers or mothers-to-be is explicitly prohibited by the WHO Code, article 5.5:
5.5 Marketing personnel, in their business capacity, should not seek direct or indirect contact of any kind with pregnant women or with mothers of infants and young children.
They have noticed that doing this without disclosure is illegal in some jurisdictions, however:
SHOULD I EXPLAIN THAT I’M A MEDELA MOM MAVEN?
Yes, please. Medela believes its Mom Mavens should disclose their affiliation with Medela whenever discussing the benefits of breastfeeding or recommending a Medela product.
So when you introduce yourself to a person or group, or are talking to people that you know, please let them know that you are a mom who breastfed and used Medela products, and that Medela has asked you to help them educate other women on breastfeeding and/or Medela breastpumps.
Just how possible this sort of disclosure is going to be on networks like Twitter, and how enforceable it’s going to be in private conversations, is left as an exercise for the reader. And disclosure, of course, does not negate or mitigate the Code breach in any way.
Medela provides Mavens with a list of message boards to spam, including Babble, Babycenter, Babyzone, iVillage, Kellymom, Sheknows, Storknet, and Urban Baby.
Note that this behaviour is prohibited on at least some of the listed messageboards. Kaboose, for example, the Babyzone message board, bans “commercial and business related” posting. Babycenter forbids unauthorized advertising and promotional materials. Ivillage only allows forum participants to use its boards for personal, non-commercial use. Storknet’s user agreement disallows advertising and solicitation of all kinds.
And, of course, Medela’s social media marketing department will be closely monitoring the ensuing conversations:
SHOULD I LET YOU KNOW WHERE I’VE POSTED?
Yes, please do! We’d like you to report on the information you share with others, whether it’s online or during face-to-face discussions. Click here to access our online reporting form, and you’ll be able to tell us how you’re educating other women about the benefits of breastfeeding. You may want to add this link to your favorites.
There’s a whole reporting webpage set up so that Mavens can report to base about where and how they’ve advocated for the Company: public message boards, forums, blogs, “email chains” and private mailing lists, and face to face conversations. Reporting Mavens are invited to share the details of these public and private conversations with the Company.
Just in case you’ve somehow managed to get the impression that this Medela Mom Mavens network is all about promoting breastfeeding – think again. Medela is not about promoting breastfeeding. Medela is about selling Stuff. Breastpumps, bottles, teats, and a variety of other Stuff. Their marketing is not about increasing breastfeeding rates and supporting women; it is about increasing the numbers of mothers buying bottles and accessories. Formula marketers have long known that the most brand-loyal mothers are ex-breastfeeding mothers; currently-breastfeeding mothers and pregnant women are the optimal target market for those selling bottle-feeding. The issues with saturation promotions of Stuff like bottles and teats is very well established, and I won’t be going over it again in this post/thread – check my previous posts and IBFAN links for the background.
Nestlé found out exactly how well received social media spam is during the #nestlefamily affair, which rejuvenated the boycott. PhDinParenting has a terrific series on that event – start here for more information, and here for the followup questions asked of Nestle, and the ways in which they showed their arses avoided them. Let’s see how well received Medela’s amateur PR people will be.
So next time you’re in a conversation about breastfeeding, public or private, and a fellow mum just happens to mention that she used Medela products and was very happy with them? Bear in mind that you may well be chatting with one of Medela’s spam team. And that if so, the conversation is going to be reported back to the Company.