CANCELLED: SMA Baby Know-How roadshow formula promotions

Update 22 June 2012 - Baby Milk Action press release: Wyeth cancels SMA Baby Know How roadshow following protests

Wyeth is advertising its SMA Baby Know How Roadshow to take place from 14 June 2012 at shopping centres across London. However, the first two events have been cancelled by the shopping centres. The event at Lakeside shopping centre (14 June) was cancelled on 13 June. The event at Bluewater shopping centre (21 June) was cancelled on 16 June. The cancellations follow complaints by Baby Milk Action and members of the public. Responses are awaited from the other shopping centres.

Bluewater and the other shopping centres are listed in an advertorial, which includes advertising statements subject to action and investigation by Trading Standards and the Advertising Standards Authority.

Wyeth refers to the roadshow on its SMA website as the 'London Blitz'.

Wyeth's Public Relations company, Red Consultancy, has described the purpose of the roadshows as follows:

"The road-show is called SMA Baby Know-How and will be taking place at various shopping centres around London. The stand will be somewhere mums can get advice, meet other mums, demo a couple of SMA products and sign up to Know-How, our baby club. In addition, we’re going to have a number of competitions and giveaways on offer and will be offering mums a free mummy and baby photo on the stand." 

Companies are prohibited from activities such as the roadshow by Article 5.5 of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (see The Law section), which states:

"Marketing personnel, in their business capacity, should not seek direct or indirect contact of any kind with pregnant women or with mothers of infants and young children."

Promoting breastmilk substitutes - including infant formula and follow-on formula - is prohibited by the International Code. Article 11.3 states:

"Independently of any other measures taken for implementation of this Code, manufacturers and distributors of products within the scope of this Code should regard themselves as responsible for monitoring their marketing practices according to the principles and aim of this Code, and for taking steps to ensure that their conduct at every level conforms to them."

So Wyeth should abide by the Code and subsequent, relevant Resolutions of the World Health Assembly even though they have not been fully implemented in the UK.

There are some controls on the marketing of breastmilk substitutes in the UK. These appear in the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations (2007) and associated Guidance Notes (see The Law section). The guidance, "shows how the regulations should be interpreted" (Hansard).

Wyeth is violating these measures with its SMA Baby Know How campaign. For example, the regulations prohibit advertising of infant formula and Wyeth advertises infant formula in promotional emails sent to people who find themselves on its mailing list (see the Wyeth violations table for full analysis of a recent email).

An advertorial for Wyeth's SMA Baby Know How Roadshow posted on the Practical Pregnancy and Parenting website (monitored 18 June 2012), includes banner advertisements with statements similar to those that appeared across the country in outdoor advertising and in newspapers in March (see the Wyeth violations table for full analysis).

The banner promotes SMA formula:

The slogan 'Find out if SMA is the best milk after yours' links to a website promoting the full range of Wyeth's SMA-branded formulas, including infant formula, making it a de facto infant formula advertisement, and so against the law.

Although the banner advertisement shows a packshot of SMA follow-on formula, the SMA logo dominates. This is because Wyeth ignores the requirement in the Guidance Notes that states:

"51. the specific terms ‘infant formula’ and ‘follow-on formula’ should be clearly featured on the packaging, in a font size no smaller than the brand name."

The term 'follow-on formula' is about 20% of the size of the brand name and so barely visible.

In the small print, Wyeth promotes use of the follow-on formula from 6 months of age. Yet the World Health Assembly has said that follow-on formulas are 'not necessary' (WHA Resolution 39.28).

It is disappointing that Wyeth has taken no action regarding its promotional strategy as the Trading Standards officer responsible for Wyeth has informed Baby Milk Action: "I can confirm that I have discussed this campaign with SMA.  I advised them of improvements that should be made to improve clarity in the future."

The Advertising Standards Authority is also investigating complaints brought by Baby Milk Action, UNICEF Baby Friendly, La Leche League and many members of the public regarding Wyeth's suggestion that its formula is the best formula and the best after breastmilk. It is disappointing that Wyeth is continuing to use these claims despite the ASA investigation, which is due to be published shortly.

Baby Milk Action has contacted both Pfizer, the current owners of Wyeth, and Nestlé, whose purchase of Wyeth is going through regulatory approval.

Pfizer responded on 31 May 2012:

Dear Mr Brady
Thank you for your email of 25th May. In response to your communication, SMA Nutrition is part of Pfizer.  All proposed activities related to the promotion of SMA products comply with local regulations.
Kind regards,
Pfizer Press office
Nestlé responded on 11 June:
"We thank you for raising your concerns regarding Pfizer Nutrition with us. However, since our acquisition of Pfizer Nutrition is still subject to regulatory approval in different jurisdictions, we cannot make any comments at this atage. Anti-trust regulations do not permit us to influence the marketing practices of other companies. Until all regulatory authorities have formally approved the transaction. Pfizer has to be considered by us as another company and we remain independent competitors. When the deal has been finalised, and Pfizer can be considered a part of Nestlé, we will, of course, appreciate receiving any concerns you may have regarding Pfizer Nutrition's marketing of breast-milk substitutes."

Baby Milk Action notes, however, that Nestlé and Wyeth are currently working together in the Philippines with other baby milk companies to try to have laws prohibiting the advertising of formula drastically weakened and requirements to put warnings on labels and translate instructions into Filipino removed.

The advertorial on the Practical Pregnancy and Parenting website (monitored 18 June 2012) is shown below (click on the image for a larger version):