Tuesday

Got Breastmilk? Public Relations, blogs, and astroturfing



In July 2008 I was intrigued by a blog post entitled, "California Milk Processor Board Goes After Breastfeeding Advocate," written by Jennifer Laycock at the Lactivist Blogspot. She told the story of a Talkeetna batik artist who got in trouble for advertising t-shirts and onesies with the words "got breastmilk?" The artist got a letter from a law firm that represented the California Milk Processor Board. The name was too similar to the trademark, "Got Milk?" The blog writer encouraged readers to write the California Milk Processor Board to let them know that there is a "difference between jugs containing breast milk and jugs containing cow's milk." I was one among many commentators to her blog post. I stated the the California Milk Processor Board was lead by a PR man, Jeff Manning (at that time in 2008). This man was considered a marketing leader for a variety of ad campaigns (beef, etc).
I later became convinced that Jennifer Laycock was also in public relations and wrote about it on my blog. I also believed that the word so now commonly used, lactivist, was a word dreamed up by PR people.
http://vwmcclain.blogspot.com/2008/09/pr-game.html

At this same time in 2008, the California Milk Processor Board (CMPB) applied for the trademark,"Got Breastmilk." I felt then that the blogging about the CMPB by breastfeeding bloggers (not just Jennifer Laycock) had resulted in the CMPB applying for that trademark. Now, that La Leche League International is paying royalities for the use of this trademark, I feel like someone got played. But who? Who played who? Is this what happens when public relation campaigns go head to head (the dairy industry PR people vs the breastfeeding PR people)? And what happens when organizations start believing their own PR people rather than independently investigating situations?

I see no mention about what happened in 2008 among the sparse comments regarding LLLI's decision to pay royalties to the CMPB in 2011. So I have a million questions and I am pretty sure that there are no answers. Why? Because we are dealing with public relations, health marketing. Who hires for such endeavors? Government mostly. But non-profits, corporations also hire PR people to promote a product, an idea, political or health objective.

The CDC website writes about "Health Marketing Basics." Now who would think that the CDC needs to market anything? Welcome to the bizarre world of Health Marketing. Bloggers are hired to market the CDC "wares." The CDC writes about their mommy bloggers.
http://www.cdc.gov/healthmarketing/ehm/blogs.html

I started to wonder about many of the breastfeeding blog sites in which the sites are similar (same style, first names only, same advertisements, same themes, same kinds of thinking). One would suppose there are a lot of breastfeeding woman thinking the same kinds of things, liking the same advertising, etc. Well, ya know I want breastfeeding promoted but this isn't quite what I had in mind. In fact, I am wondering if the Got Breastmilk? fiasco is the result of Public Relations gone amuck?

What about astroturfing? Is this an example of it? "Astroturf refers to apparently grassroots-based citizen groups or coalitions that are primarily conceived, created and/or funded by corporations, industry trade associations, political interests or public relations firms."
http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Astroturf

I think back to another PR fiasco regarding donating human milk for babies in Haiti. Huge PR initially to get moms to donate their milk to the not-for profit milk banks to help the infants in Haiti. Of course, had the PR people truly understood breastfeeding and natural disasters, they would never have gone "Viral" pleading for donor milk. I also find myself questioning whether the organization, Human Milk 4 Human Babies, (milk sharing through the internet) is just another PR game. The internet creates an enormous opportunity for those in the PR industry to create Illusion, to make us believe that there is a lot of women sharing breastmilk over the internet. Is there? And if this is an illusion, who wants us to believe this? And why do they want us to believe this? Is it the regulators, who want to put a stop to milk sharing over the internet? Create the illusion that tons of women are sharing breastmilk through the internet making it important to have regulation? Who benefits if private milk sharing is regulated by the FDA? Hm, milkbanks might be happier. Is the world really what the internet portrays as reality? Who is paying for the PR? Is it PR? Will you ever know?
Copyright 2011 Valerie W. McClain



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