Wyeth/SMA television ad still running in the UK as we await action from the ASA

A while ago I wrote about the Wyeth television advertisement in the UK promoting the brand name through a father making promises to his partner about how he would support her, including with 'night feeds'.

Today I received another complaint from a member of the public as it was shown at the weekend.

We have still not received a ruling from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) on the advertisement, having called for it to investigate.

My earlier blog includes a link where you can investigate the advertisement for yourself. See:

The following analysis was posted on that entry by Morgan Gallagher, which I think makes very interesting reading. It makes the point very well that the advertisement is not imparting accurate information about infant feeding, it is promoting a positive emotional reaction to the brand, which is a poor basis for deciding how to feed a child.

As you say Mike, the ad is very very clever. The cleverness is multi-layered, not least of which is how it skirts the guidelines on formula advertising to suggest prior formula use whilst pretending to be about follow-on milk.

It's also very British. It's using a film style very reminiscent of British Kitchen Sink dramas, although it has soft focussed it a little to make it modern and accessable to a larger advertising audience. But the iconography of the kitchen sink, the bedroom, the sitting at the old fashioned dressing table, is all quintessential British soap opera territory. A world slightly grimy, slightly ragged and not quite all USA, or Australian, soap opera clean and shiny newness. It's more 'true to life' which is how British TV audiences prefer their drama - with a thin veneer of actuality. Although the aspirational marketing of the product requires it to pitch to the upper end of the spectrum, even this is well done within the framework of it being about everyday families - as it's toys and 'baby sick' that mess up the not quite got there yet feel of the piece. So whilst it's not Perfect Persil Advert Houses, it's just a little short of that advertising ideal. The kitchen isn't quite all matching, the bedroom a bit gloomy in the night, but the living room in the mother in law section, and the garden in the adoration of the madonna without an actual child in her arms, is middle class in its construction. The message is clear here that SMA understands where you're coming from, and where you're hoping to end up, and using SMA is part of that upwardly mobile agenda.

It's also a very clever address to the demographic: first time mothers. Whilst being up front in it's 'new man' appeal, as it's a father speaking, it's all totally about fulfilling the fantasies of the woman. In perfect Mills & Boons cadences, we see the man/husband/father enact a love sonnet to the woman/wife/mother, that treasures her for her domestic skills, still sees her as a vital sexual object as the same time as a mother, defends her against interfering well intentioned mothers in law and gives her emotional space to be 'her own person' whilst he frees her up to be that physically by 'holding the baby' for her.

This part is actually the most disturbing area for me, as it's using the pseudo feminist agenda that's always been used to promote formula, in a subtle and insidious manner. Actually holding the baby in this ad is very problematic for the mother. She's in the night exhausted by her crying baby, she's being criticised by her MiL, she's even covered in baby sick smell when she's fresh and showered and wanting to go out for the evening and doesn't even have the baby with her. Mothering is presented as something that is demeaning and demoralising to her: hence the need for the husband to step in support, encourage and praise her for her efforts. He is rescuing her, by using formula to 'free' her from the constrictions of motherhood. He's being a modern White Knight and needs no pure white steed and shining sword, merely a pure white bottle of formula to slay the dragon that has enslaved her. He can literally take feeding the baby off her hands, and give her a 'break' from overwhelming drudgery.

This message about mothering, and motherhood, is so deeply ingrained in our culture, that most people would look at what I've written and say "So what, all that is true?" Well, it may be true in a formula world, where babies and mothers have to be seperated in order to 'let others have a go at feeding' and to 'give Mum a break' but it doesn't reflect the actuality of my world as a mother, and doesn't reflect that of most mothers I know. Keeping baby beside you in order to breastfeed is easier, less work and far more personally rewarding than handing them over to others whilst you 'escape' to the garden for some 'me time'. Mothering _is_ 'me time' in my world, and I'm heartily sick of the view of it constructed so effortlessly, and so 'naturally' in this ad.

In my world, it's not mothering that takes it out of me - it's having to be all things to all people all the time and do it all in the home to boot. And when I'm tired and drained and fed up and exhausted _by life_, I don't need my husband to take my baby off my hands whilst I run off to the garden to be by myself. I need him to bring me hot cups of tea, empty the washing machine into the tumble dryer and cook dinner whilst I put my feet up and snuggle my baby to my breast and flood myself with joy juice: another ingredient missing from formula.

It's no accident, however, that Eulogising Fantasy Husband doesn't do any of this in the advert, as that would undermine his manly status. Houseworking husbands in adverts have to be cheeky chappies taking the mick slightly, and that would not do here. So he has to stay adoring and loving but manly in his everyday Joe Bloggness, hence the shots of a stubble beard, crinkled gray t-shirts and not quite with-it expressions as he shares the 'burden' of a baby. All beautifully counterpointed by those not quite rugged but oh so manly arms lovingly holding and protecting his tiny baby. Softness and strength... bring me the Kleenex, oh no, wait.. bring me the Andrex...

Promoting the seperation of the mother and baby, in order to 'help' the mother out, is such a stalwart of the formula marketing machine, that it is easy to miss how potent that construction is in this advert.

Shock and horror at how comprehensively they're trumpeting formula use can actually mask _why_ this advert is so hideous.

For the hard marketing reality is that adverts don't sell products: they sell lifestyles.

It's the constructed lifestyle in this advert that is so offensive, and so damaging. For it's a lifestyle that requires formula to make good the damage a baby does to a woman's life. It peddles the ultimate formula message in the West - that women _need_ formula to save them from their babies. That formula fulfills some sort of vital support role in the life of the average mother. That breastfeeding is too hard, too difficult, too restricting. Too old fashioned. That modern women _need_ a substitute to enable them to live fulfilled lives as both an individual and as a mother. After all, the entire up front focal point of the advert is that Dad can also do some of the feeding to 'help Mum out'.

This ad does break Code - quite clearly in its construction of Dad giving night feeds - but it is also offensive in the message it sends out about how women cannot manage the simple act of feeding their baby normally. How they need an artificial product to make mothering a success. How they need others to take on 'the load' in order to thrive themselves. That they should, on some level, be grateful that such 'rescue' is available.

Formula feeding is a risk activity. The white powder in the can comes with such delights as salmonella - at no extra cost - and its unsuitability for the newborn stomach puts babies at risk of serious gut inflammation, infection and life long allergies. And that's before you get to the increased health risks from lack of human milk. Formula marketing not only denies these factual truths in its construction of happy healthy babies, thriving on an expensive and inferior artificial product, it suggests that mothers need this intervention to remain true to themselves. In order to sell their product, they have to put themselves between the mother and the baby: they have to create a need for their product. This advert is very clear in its construction of what the problem is: motherhood. In the SMA world, woman simpy aren't up to being mothers without SMA products. They cannot possibly juggle the demands the world makes on them, as woman, wives and mothers, without formula.

'Clever' just doesn't do justice to this ad. Here's hoping the makers manage some sleep... despite all that night feeding.

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