Similac has won the Internet and marketing in general with a new ad that has most moms crying out “Yes!”

Here it is for context (potential trigger warning for implied possible harm to child):

I’ll be honest, I didn’t like it.  At all.  I appreciate what they’ve done, but I didn’t like it.  At first I chose to ignore it.  After all, I didn’t like it, but many others did and that’s good they have an ad they can get behind.  But after a lot of requests on FB for my thoughts on it, I decided to throw my hat in the ring and posted the following:

The Similac Ad (because I have had more messages about it than almost anything ever)

I hated the new Similac ad that tries to tell us all we are all parents first and to cut the crap of judging one another. Apparently if you admit to this people tend to think you either a) have a stick up your ass or b) are one of the “meanies” the video is supposedly trying to speak out against. For me, it’s neither.

Why did I hate it? Because at its core, it’s a very slick way to advertise for formula. Go back and watch this ad and see which one group doesn’t actually insult anyone else. Which group is simply the brunt of attacks? Whereas which groups are the meanest?

If you couldn’t guess, the formula feeders don’t actually insult anyone (outside of one remark, not about breastfeeding, but in response to an attack on them). They are simply the punching bag for the breastfeeders who are totally antagonistic. Just as the babywearers are also some of the ruder ones. (Anyone see an anti-AP stance going here too?) Dads are stereotypically funny and into boobs (because we shouldn’t take them seriously should we, but they are likable presumably because they’re using formula – after all, what about the kind dads who are just having fun, what will they feed their babies?).

At the end of the day, this ad is about making sure that if you are someone who speaks up for breastfeeding, you are the “meanie”. It is about making sure formula is seen as an absolute equal to breastfeeding – and not just in terms of what’s best for a given woman, but an absolutely equal choice. After this, when people hear anyone speak about the risks associated with formula on the personal or even societal level, they will think of this and assume the person is a judgmental ass. It’s already happened, but Similac has now managed to capitalize on it.

It’s an ad of stereotypes, media-fuled Mommy Wars, and carefully played marketing on behalf of a formula company. From that point of view, it’s brilliant. Unfortunately, from the point of view of it’s broader impact, it’s depressing.

And for anyone that tries to claim that people are smarter than the ads and won’t fall prey to that type of built-in message, I ask you to think about why advertising is a multi-billion dollar industry. It’s not because we see through it. It’s because we don’t.

This was met at first by a lot of people finally feeling free to voice their own dislike of the video (for whatever reason, some were contrary to my own) which was nice.  Some people disagreed with my take and that was totally cool – I don’t look for universal agreement on anything.  Some were mixed, but overall the discussion was productive.

Then I went to bed.  And woke up in a totally different world.

I was met by an onslaught of people suggesting that my post had “proved the point of the video”, that I was one of the mean people who was judgmental and mean towards formula feeding moms.  Many mothers asked what were they supposed to do except use formula when breastfeeding didn’t work out?  To say I was flabbergasted is an understatement.  What did this have to do with an ad?  I had to read the comments again and accept that I was actually awake and this was actually happening.

the matrixHow to respond?

picard wtf

After the initial shock that so many people could read something so personal into something about an ad by a company, I realized that my prediction of what would happen was shown to be true, just earlier than I had anticipated.  The ad has now perpetuated the mommy wars and helped some moms see judgment everywhere.

This is what I speak of when I talk of the media mommy wars. I wrote something about an ad, by a company (in a sector that is known to subtly try to dissuade women from breastfeeding – even women that want to breastfeed – to make a profit). I take issue with said ad because it ever so subtly suggests that everything is “equal” when in fact it’s not.  Even on this one thread, most women who wrote about using formula didn’t write about wanting to formula feed from the beginning, but rather facing numerous problems during their breastfeeding experience and eventually “failing” at breastfeeding. Yet if formula is an “equal” choice, equally good for baby, mom, and society, we don’t fight for the resources for women to meet their goals.

It also subtly portrays certain groups as being the judgmental and mean ones while others may be catty, but only in response to the meanies. Yes, that opening of “breast police” by the formula feeders is hardly an insult – in the current online discourse it’s common to hear referenece to the “breastfeeding nazis” or “breastfeeding police” (including in campaigns that are supposed to end judgment like the “I Support You” one) without it being accepted or thought of as judgmental or mean.  Rather the implication is that these groups deserve it, a fact perpetuated in the ad as the breastfeeders are quite nasty to those who are using formula.  Next time a mom online sees any reference to the “breast police”, the seed has been planted that this person (or page or group) must be mean, why else would others refer to them that way? Yet, it’s thrown about to those who are not judgmental but simply wanting to keep the discourse on breastfeeding alive given the problems so many women face in breastfeeding when they want to.

What was more baffling though was that people decided that not liking an ad equals not liking people that use the product.  I hate all forms of smoking advertising (luckily they are far less than before), but my sister smokes. Does this mean I hate her?  Of course not.  However, part of the reason I hate the ad is because I’ve heard so many stories from women who didn’t meet their breastfeeding goal and I see how this is one little piece into the puzzle of why this fact is way too common.  We are normalizing the use of formula to such a degree that we all struggle to see that more support is needed for women to breastfeed successfully (this was also borne out in the comments as many women truly seemed to believe that if you want to breastfeed, “just do it”, as if it were that simple).

I have formula feeding family (by choice and by medical condition and by horrible misleading statements by doctors), I have formula feeding friends (again, by choice and by “failure” to breastfeed – their term, not mine and I hate it because it’s not their failure, it’s that of a society that sets things up against breastfeeding). I love them all and think they are wonderful parents. I still have serious issues with formula companies. (Not only from this ad, but more importantly the death toll on their hands from their marketing practices in developing nations which trades infant lives for a profit.) The two things can completely co-exist.

This ad has perpetuated the mommy wars more than any comment by me could. It has primed women (and men?) to think of parenting, discourse on parenting (including infant feeding, birth, etc.) in “us versus them” mentality. Not only is that mentality out in full force when it comes to how we think or talk about this specific ad (after all, it’s my not liking it that has led to all sorts of negative comments), but also in how any discussion about feeding (or babywearing or birth or work) is now automatically framed in the mommy wars context, even when the comment or discourse doesn’t belong there. This is the kind of attitude that shuts down discussions and in turn, shuts down any hope of change in our society. It’s the way to say, “the status quo is working and don’t rock the boat” when we know that’s not the case because approximately 60% of women who DON’T want to supplement with formula end up doing so.

Whatever you personally felt about this ad, please just be willing to accept that someone else didn’t like it. Someone else has a view of marketing that is perhaps more jaded than yours (and perhaps more realistic?), but that it says nothing about you personally. Not every comment is a dig at your choices.  So stop blaming me for how you feel, stop suggesting I don’t like you or I judge you or I hate you.  Sometimes it can really be a comment about an ad that has gone viral and the predatory nature of the company behind the ad.  Even if you have to use that company or chose to use that company or even loved the ad yourself.

[One more follow-up: Some people felt that this ad alone won’t change their mind about anything.  That’s not the point I was trying to make about advertising.  Ads work subtly.  You’re exposed over and over and certain ideas stick and are more easily brought to the forefront of your mind when you encounter a situation that triggers such memories.  Importantly to this one, the memories that stick are not of everyone working together, but rather of the strife.  That’s the salient part of the ad – the part that gets remembered down the line.  There is also the issue of brand recognition and Similac has just done a heck of a job creating great associations with their brand.  There’s tons of research on the effects of advertising and I strongly recommend you check some of it out if you are at all questioning if this ad could exert any influence on our thinking.]

Here is another take that I STRONGLY believe you should read. Especially if you believe that this ad is all warm and fuzzy or that this is somehow about you:

http://joeyandrox.blogspot.ca/2015/02/throws-her-hat-in-ring.html?m=1