Being a woman of reproductive age, who shares pictures of my kids and parenting stuff on social media, the algorithms-that-be at Facebook make sure I have lots of ‘relevant’ advertising pop up in my feed. An ad which has come up a few times lately is this one from Blackmores:

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Well, golly, aren’t Blackmores just so darn nice! They want to give me a present (of a product whose main function is to circumvent the MAIF agreement, which in Australia prevents the marketing of infant formula for babies under 12 months under the WHO Code). I wonder what other lovely things they have waiting for mums like me over at ‘Mums Like You’!

If the ‘Mums Like You’ hub were a house, I’d want to live in it – the light is flattering, the colour scheme is gorgeous, and I’m having serious wallpaper envy. At Mums Like You I can find healthy kids recipes, information about fussy eaters, articles and advice about pregnancy and parenting. Hey look, I can even ‘Ask a lactation consultant’:

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I wonder which product from the Blackmores Infant Nutrition range the Blackmores Lactation Consultant recommends! Perhaps it’s the newborn formula, which they ARE NOT ALLOWED TO ADVERTISE IN AUSTRALIA SO WHY THE HELL AM I EVEN LOOKING AT A PICTURE OF IT? Although I’m not sure how to get in touch with the Blackmores Lactation Consultant, given that when I click on the link, I get a page titled ‘Ask a Blackmores Naturopath‘ (In the fine print apparently a lactation consultant is ‘also available’, although there’s no word on whether this is an IBCLC, or how they intend to provide lactation support with “general information for self-limiting conditions… not intended to replace consultations with your healthcare professional.”).

What Blackmores are doing here is part of the new frontier of formula marketing – the creation of online communities. On Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and their own websites, formula companies pose as a friend, connecting like-minded mums together. They know what it’s like to be a mum like you! They know how hard your feeding journey has been. They wanted you to breastfeed, they even printed ‘breast is best’ on their formula tins and paid a naturopath lactation consultant to help you out. They’re here for you and they promise not to judge.

This online presence pushes the legal and ethical limits of formula marketing to the max. The (voluntary and industry-regulated) WHO code was written before the age of social media and the blogosphere, and although some of the marketing actions do clearly violate the code, many others are simply not covered. But why would companies think twice about the Code if they can get mothers to do their dirty work for them – sponsored reviews, user-generated content, or sharing ads which go viral globally, including in countries which would not allow the placement of those ads by the company themselves.

Parents using social media in 2015 could not possibly have missed the Sisterhood of Motherhood’ campaign from American company Similac, owned by Abbott Laboratories. When these commercials won a Gold Effie Award – an industry gong celebrating the most effective advertisements – the ad man in charge of the campaign shared proudly about how the vulnerability of mothers created a perfect opportunity to boost Similac’s market profile and sales:

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So… fewer babies and more breastfeeding was giving Abbott/Similac the sads (please note that the language of infant feeding as “competition” is coming directly from the marketers). But wait! Research revealed that they could exploit the insecurities of mothers by demonstrating that other women really are judgmental bitches, enabling Similac to manufacture a sense of community which can only be found by embracing the use of their product. Abbott execs are now sleeping in a bed made of money because SISTERHOOD HECK YEAH.

Bellamy’s Organic wants you to share your baby’s ‘B’ name.

Karicare want you to share about your #mumlife.

Aptamil want you to… actually I have no idea what this even is.

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These companies are not sisterhood. Their online communities are not the new village.

These companies are manipulative, abusive, coercive, exploitative, misogynist steamrollers. They do not give a toss about women or our breastfeeding goals. They don’t want us to trust each other – they want us to trust their brand. And the only thing our babies are worth to them is $29.99 per can.

My breastfeeding relationships with my children have only been possible because of the relationships I have forged with other mothers. Women who have fed their own children in many different ways, but who have supported my desire to breastfeed even when it’s been incredibly challenging. These women have cooked for my family, cleaned my house, hung out my washing; they have held my baby so I could sob properly while agonising about whether or not I would keep breastfeeding. Some of them have even given their own breastmilk so my baby could have enough. This is sisterhood  – authentic, raw, life shared in the trenches and blossoming into long term beauty.

Formula can be substituted for breastmilk. But a formula company expecting us to substitute spin for human connection is a line-crossing insult. They can stick their free samples up their Hubs. I’m not buying it, and you shouldn’t either.