Everyday Codebreaking: Aptamil advertising

Another look at advertising by artificial baby milk companies.

I’m going to take a look at the visual imagery in the ad used to present their product as not just “as good as breastmilk”, but subtly or not-so-subtly better. First they co-opt breastfeeding, working hard to give the impression that the artificial milk is just like breastfeeding in the way it protects the baby’s immune defences – that’s the obvious part. They imply that weaning to a modified cow’s milk product is a natural progression in a woman and child’s feeding life.

Then when you look more closely at the less obvious messages: in the breastfeeding phase the mother and baby are alone, mostly in/on bed, in a subdued home in blue shades that lacks colour. When they are breastfeeding, she is standing awkwardly in the middle of a room, alone except for her baby. I’m getting a profound feeling of isolation; a gilded cage, a dreamlike world that is necessarily brief for people with lives.

After weaning, they go out for happy fresh-air walks! And to the park! And there are other children! And there is a world of rainbow colour, of bright flowers and toys!!

OK, it’s not so subtle. This sort of thing is par for the course for infant formula manufacturers. They are forced by law to repeat statements like “breast is best”, so they co-opt that as a marketing message: “breast is best, and our formula is inspired by breastmilk!”

They are forced by law to repeat “breast is best”, so they try to make breastfeeding seem difficult, isolating, inconvenient, something women do just for a short time before getting on with things with the help of Technology(tm).

They are forced to repeat “breast is best”, so they use breastfeeding images in ways that make breastfeeding seem like something only “other people” do, something perhaps even not quite legitimate. A classic example is the formula company “breastfeeding support literature” that presented pictures of breastfeeding and bottle-feeding mothers – and only the breastfeeding mothers were in nightclothes and lacked wedding rings. (I can’t find a copy of these images now; does anyone here have a link?)

Aptamil formula is produced in the UK by Danone, a long-time violator of the World Health Organisation Code on the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. This advertisement is dense with violations not just of the WHO Code but of UK law, from the “natural defences”, to the invented word “Immunofortis”, to the cross-promotional packaging, to the unsupported claims, to the use of breastfeeding images. Baby Milk Action has noted their packaging violations in the past.

The Boycott Nestle blog took at look at this ad. The Guidance Notes that accompany the UK law on formula advertising include the following, which Aptamil is clearly violating:

“To minimise the risk of consumers making a connnection between follow-on formula and the act of feeding infants from birth, information in advertisements for follow-on formula should not include pictures or text which relate or compare follow-on formula to breastmilk.”

Australia has no such law at this time.

[Commenters: please read some of my previous posts on this issue before commenting, especially this one and this one.]

[Hat tip to Simon.]

Categories: gender & feminism, law & order, media

Tags: ,

3 replies

  1. That visual language is almost defiantly blatant in how it codes the two options. Disgusting.

  2. Notice how the name is designed to sound kind of like “optimal”?

  3. Helen: absolutely. Aptamil, Similac, Nan, Good Start, [foo] Gold, Comforts, Parent’s Choice, Baby’s Choice, Good Sense, Perfect Choice, Top Care, Bright Beginnings, Kozy Kids, Good Start Essentials, Good Night Milk, Farley’s First Milk, Similac Advance, Home Best, Enfamil Gentlease, Sensikare, Novalac Sweet Dreams, Heinz Nurture, [bar] For Hungry Babies, [xyz] Progress – the names themselves are “idealising language” which is barred under the Code.
    And they’re just examples from the Anglosphere.

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