The Marketing That Starts in the Pregnancy Ward

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The Marketing That Starts In the Pregnancy WardAs my son’s birth approached, a girlfriend who’d delivered two weeks earlier imparted her advice for a smooth transition to parenthood: Make sure you take home the bag of stuff.

The bundle she was referring to was not my baby (like I would forget him), but rather the post partum party favor many hospitals hand out, a swag bag stocked with formula samples and other trinkets (mine included a reference book on Baby’s first year and a sweet frame from the nursing staff). I was psyched to receive something (anything!) free for my newborn.

Turns out, I wasn’t special when it came to getting free baby handouts.

The Marketing Begins

To launch its new Disney Baby division, the house of mouse is hoping other women share the same sentiment I did. Disney is following the lead of many formula companies by making hospital visits to babies in 580 maternity wards across the country. The New York Times reports that Disney has teamed up with Our365, a business that sells “bedside baby pictures and pays hospitals for exclusive access” to patients. Mom and baby leave the hospital with not only a new set of prints, but also a Disney Cuddly Bodysuit (AKA a onesie) adorned with characters like Minnie Mouse and the Little Mermaid.

Andy Mooney, chairman of Disney Consumer Products, explained the brand strategy to The Times: “Apparel is only a beachhead,” he said, noting plans to woo mothers with free tickets to a Disney park in exchange for their email addresses. “To get that mom thinking about her family’s first park experience before her baby is even born is a home run.”

It’s Not Just the Moms They’re Targeting …

Disney’s foray into all things baby is part of a larger trend targeting the relatively new demographic of infants to 3-year-olds. Buoyed by the growth of smartphones and tablets, marketers are reaching pint-sized purchasers by creating apps (Fisher-Price launched Chatter Phone, the digital version of its popular plastic telephone pull-toy, and Nick Jr. has numerous “Dora” incarnations meant to appeal to the younger set, websites and even an online TV network for younger and younger consumers.

While licensing characters for clothing, toys and packaged food is nothing new, Adweek notes, “marketing to tots has ramped up to the point that even high-end fashion brands are jumping in.” Cynthia Rowley, for example, designed a line of diapers for Pampers. “It’s the first piece of clothing your baby will ever wear, and it should be special,” Rowley told Luxist. And there are plenty of mothers who agree—and who are willing to pay a little extra for disposable designer underwear. After all, according to a New York Times article, “Even in penny-pinching times, parents still want to demonstrate how well (or at least tastefully) they are bringing up baby. Designer diapers are a useful tool for sending that message.”

(By the way, if you’re worried about arming your kid with ways to be savvy against advertising, we have some tips.)

The Argument Against the Marketing

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) points out that companies are making a play for “cradle to grave brand loyalty,” which means you can purchase a “John Deere Little Princess Romper” or a tie-dyed onesie from Harley Davidson.

And don’t think your child won’t notice your affinity for a certain brand of hog. Babies form mental images of corporate logos and mascots by six months, says the CCFC.

For many, the practice of marketing to young children or handing out free samples to mothers while they’re still tethered to the maternity ward by an IV is a moral issue. Breastfeeding advocates have railed against hospitals for providing formula samples, arguing that they encourage bottle-feeding. Many hospitals have since eliminated the freebies, and last fall Rhode Island banned the bags statewide.

For me, the not-too-subtle maternity room advertising ploys came with a perk. After staring at an entire wall of soothers at Buy Buy Baby one day, it was easier to walk away from the display than sort through every sucker on the shelf. Later, when I decided to give my baby a pacifier for the first time after a particularly trying bout of crying, I was relieved to find a sample from Nuk in a goodie bag I’d received after a trip to A Pea in the Pod maternity store.

Go figure.

What do you think about companies handing out goody bags in the maternity ward? Would you be (or were you) thankful for the freebies?

  • RoseJB

    I’m not very brand loyal, so I wouldn’t mind receiving a goodie bag in the maternity ward. Chances are, baby wouldn’t see the logos in our home again. My choices for our future baby have been guided by online reviews and a book of baby bargains that highlights quality and safety at the lowest price.

    I’m also trying to make it clear to family members that I would prefer not to have my child buy into marketing ploys that market childrens’ favourite characters, so I won’t be buying bedding or clothing emblazoned with licensed characters and have asked that others refrain as well. 

    • Acdamour

      I got flak from family members when for my firsts’ first Christmas I requested “no characters.” My thinking is, eventually my child will actually ask me for these things…I don’t need to speed up that process.

      But I love the goodie bag mainly because it came with things like an extra bottle (I breast feed but pumped to go back to work so bottles are always handy), and the small diaper bag it came in was particularly great for stashing as an emergency bag in the car. I ended up donating the bottles of formula. I hear you can leave that behind to be donated as well in some hospitals.

      I think the bigger issue is the targeting of toys and media outlets for infants, whose brains are not yet ready to handle the speed at which media is portrayed for them (and the impacts have not yet been extensively studied).

  • Sjdemo

    i delivered both of mine at stand-alone birth centers, so i avoided the promo-bag altogether. i have seen from working in hospitals that some are starting to give bags according to feeding preference — a manual pump or pump coupons for the breast feeding set, or a formula sample for the other.
    as far as the commercialism of clothing, toys, etc. i don’t think it matters near as much as exposure to television. we only watch movies or netflix, so my kids aren’t exposed to commercials. of course they like the cereal box with animated characters and they know some on the toys, but we don’t have the in-store meltdowns because i’m not buying the latest fad.
    the great thing about freebies is if you don’t think you’ll use it you can always donate them to people who are grateful to have anything at all.

  • huntsvillemama

    I didn’t use a single thing in our “booby-trap” bag except the bag itself.  It contained a formula sample, a cooler bag emblazoned with a formula logo, and a “breastfeeding guide” that made breastfeeding sound like it was difficult, gross, unattractive, and perverted.  I used the bad to tote around the baby’s toys until it fell apart 4 or 5 months later and I tossed it too.  Formula marketing is very insidious.  It makes me sick.