Tuesday, 22 June 2010


An intriguing situation with an advertising campaign in which the government promotes breastfeeding of babies.

The "Breast is Best" campaign, aside from biasing sales in Kentucky Fried Chicken, is intended to encourage new mothers to breastfeed their babies instead of using bottles. Breastfeeding generally is thought to improve the health of the baby and, possibly, also of the mother.

However, the campaign appears to have the surprising side-effect of reducing the number of breastfeeding mothers. Apparently, highlighting the fact that people need to be encouraged to breastfeed creates an unintended norm...leading many people to (not consciously, I believe) think that bottle feeding is the default option.

Therefore, a pro-breastfeeding organisation has asked the government to stop the campaign.

I'm sure the new coalition, with its new budget constraints on the COI (Central Office of Information - the civil service advertising department) will be happy to oblige.

But advertisers everywhere would be advised to look closely too. What messages are you sending with your advertising? Imagine someone looking cynically at your campaigns...what does it say that you have to advertise how high the quality of your products is? And if you insist that you're the cheapest option available, what do you think people will infer?

Good advertisers and copywriters, of course, know how to communicate a message indirectly, so as not to create a cynicism backlash. But there are plenty of bad adverts out there too.


Marco Novarese said...

This is a very interesting news; I think someone could use it as an example against paternalism. It shows the unintended effect of apparentely well defined actions, related to the fact that humans use their reason and reflect on thigs, elaborating mental models.
Talking about learning, Gregory Bateson points out something similar. A central planner can teach childer to spy on their parents; but in this way, they'll also learn to see any authority in a different way.

Anonymous said...

"However, the campaign appears to have the surprising side-effect of reducing the number of breastfeeding mothers."

Following and reading the link to the BBC website, I saw no evidence presented that supports the the above claim.

What I did read, however, was one spokesperson saying

"We've got to knock breastfeeding off this pedestal,",

and one other spokesperson broadly agreeing.

Neither of these people seem to have made the claim that you report.

Did I miss something?