Why Does Advertising Work for Formula, but not for Tofurky?

January 31, 2011 · 18 comments

Fake Turkey

Artificial turkey

In an earlier post I compared fomula to Tofurky.

Honestly, I’m a little surprised no one called me out on it. Tofurky is commonly the butt of jokes, while formula generally is not (except in some circles, but that’s a whole other story).

It got me thinking about the popularity of formula versus the popularity of Tofurky, and how advertising fits into the equation. I can’t recall ever actually seeing a Tofurky advertisement (perhaps this is part of their problem), but I’ve seen lots and lots of formula advertisements, and they’ve bugged me since before I started blogging.

Many people have written about the evils of formula advertising and the subtle, sometimes shocking way it’s implemented. PhD in Parenting leads the way in boycotting Nestle because of their extensive reach and not-good works tied to their brand power, something I’ve joined in on.

But I’m curious . . . what is the effect, as perceived by parents? Is our breastfeeding-unfriendly culture the result of formula advertising, or are formula companies simply taking advantage of the market created by our culture?

Moms that have formula-fed, I’m especially curious to hear your thoughts. How did you decide which formula to go with? Are there any you particularly gravitated towards or avoided, and why?

This is obviously my own very unscientific poll to satisfy my own curiosity. I’m not trying to prove any points with this, but if you have one, please share!

Photo Credit: JP Puerta, on Flickr

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Darcie January 31, 2011

I would have to agree with Kathleen. That’s why I really don’t get it when people get upset about those “evil” formula companies (w/r/t the US). Are alot of women really that incognizant?! I guess in general I am not that susceptible to marking. On the other hand, I also think some lactivists mislead women by “spinning” and overstating certain benefits of brestfeeding as well.

I echo Kathleen in supporting the effort in knowing what exactly goes into each formula. I have to educate myself more on the laws and restrictions for other foods vs. formula. Are they held to different standards and rules?

I know that formula isn’t the same as breastmilk, but was a good alternative for us. Nor do I feel that BF is the be- all – end all of motherhood and a happy, healthy child. I found the healtiest one available (organic/brown rice) and thankfully my daughters didn’t have any issues with it and we could afford it as well.


2 Jespren January 31, 2011

1st wanted to say ‘hi! I’m back!’ Have been very busy getting ready for a craft competition (which I won) so haven’t been online for a while. Will catch up soon. On this:
I commented on fb but will expound here. I have taken marketing and advertizing classes before (mostly because it’s somewhat related to art) and did supplement with my 1st child due to low supply. (NICU baby and despite fenugrek and lactation ‘mother’s milk’ tea had continued supply issues so son got 1 formula bottle a day around 2am when he was hungry and I was dry).
The main reason ads work for formula and not tofurkey, IMHO, is because the end user is not the buyer. If you see an ad for tofurkey (and I’ve actually seen a few around thanksgiving before) maybe you think you’ll try it. But if you don’t like the taste it doesn’t really matter how many ads you see, you aren’t going to buy it again because you have a negative personal experiance the ad has to overcome. But formula? You put it in a bottle and that baby drinks it. The person responsible for responding to the ad (buying it) doesn’t only not have to taste it but also doesn’t have to hear any complaints about it either. And, as the previous commenter noted, information on formula other than from the ads is extremely difficult to come by. All you have to go on is the ad. Advertizing works VERY well on a blank slate, not so good on a scale though. Consider cars for a moment. Usually you see a few ads for various cars at peak sales times trying to draw in people who need to replace their old one. But most cars are sold through brand loyalty. Now recently there was the issue with toyota cars and that huge recall. People had a negative personal experiance. Toyota had to flood the airwaves with ads, they were advertising everywhere, very agressively, and yet their sales still took a huge hit. What otherwise works great to draw in customers suddenly wasn’t working so well, because it had to overcome a negative. It’s said it takes over 100 complements to overcome 1 bad comment, and while I don’t take much stock in physcology it’s true that humans carry negatives better than positives. Marketing correctly teaches us people are much more willing to take a risk on gifts than on things we plan on using. People don’t buy crazy things for themselves, they buy them for someone else. Which is why ads for baby food, formula, even toy toys work so well, the person buying it isn’t the one taking the risk on a negative experiance. Think about store bought baby food. Ask a parent who uses it and most of the time they’ve never tasted it (or they have been convinced baby’s don’t have taste buds). While parents who have tasted baby food…don’t buy it. If baby food tasted half way decent their ads would say ‘try it ourself! You’ll be amazed!” But marketing knows the danager of asking questions you don’t want the answer to, they aren’t going to suggest adults taste formula or baby food, because they know most people wouldn’t feed that to t heir kid. If you look, pet food is advertized in almost the exact same way as formula/baby food is. I think if some rich lactivist wanted to really convince some new mothers to stick with the breast they could put an add out aimed at pregnant women simple asking them to try to drink 2 oz of formula themselves before giving it to their baby.


3 Melissa @The New Mommy Files January 31, 2011

Thanks to growing up with a view of breastfeeding as the norm, I never gave formula so much as a thought, so the advertising had little to no effect on me. While I’m certain that advertising plays a role, and I agree wholeheartedly with those who maintain that formula should not be advertised, I do think it’s more an issue of societal norms. Formula became popular, after all, in response to a perceived need for human milk substitutes. The clever advertising surely contributes to the commonly held view of formula as a safe and healthy choice for infant feeding, but I don’t think that getting rid of the advertising would get rid of formula. Now, those pesky samples in the mail and in hospital bags probably sabotage more would be breastfeeding relationships than I would like to think about.

As for Tofurky, I’m a big fan :)


4 Scott January 31, 2011

My wife and I ended up needing to use about half formula and half breastmilk, due to various complicated medical issues with both my wife and our kids. As for how we picked which formula to use, I will definitely say that advertising didn’t play a part. We first used Good Start, because we were on WIC and it was paid for by the government. We also used a little enfamil, because one of our lactation consultants had a huge cabinet full of free samples that she passed on to us. When we got off WIC and ran out of free samples, we found that the local grocery store had an inexpensive store brand that was organic, so we tried it out and liked it. That’s what we used (and still use) mostly: Kroger’s generic organic formula.


5 Kathleen (amoment2think) January 31, 2011

It is interesting because while I understand and agree with the concerns about formula advertising… formula advertising had a less then 0 impact on our formula decision. We fed our daughter formula (at the nurses orders) due to lack of supply and moved 100% to formula when she was about 4 months old (again, because of lack of supply).

We choose our formula on 3 criteria. 1) Organic 2) Soy (she had a milk allergy) and 3) tried to find one without corn syrup. We only half succeeded at this. We found a good organic soy formula with brown rice sugar… but my daughter didn’t react well to it and we had to ship it in. Not to mention we really couldn’t afford it. We ended up with a store brand organic soy formula (I tried not to look at the ingredients because I knew it would make me upset). It was reasonably affordable, easy to get and my daughter could tolerate it.

So I get why the advertising is an issue, but my experience was that as parent it really had no impact. If I really couldn’t breastfeed her I wanted to find an alternative that was as good as it could be. Actually, the most frustrating thing about the process was how little information there is out there. It is very difficult to compare and contrast formula and really understand what is in formula. There is also a complete lack of readily available healthier alternatives to main stream formula. I would have loved to have an oat milk or goat milk option with better ingredients and no corn syrup. You know, for the health conscious who can’t breastfeed.


6 Darcie February 1, 2011

The more I thought about this post it made me realize that there is this assumption that women formula feed BECAUSE the advertising makes them think that formula is the same as breast. I don’t know. All the woman that I know who either combo fed or switched to formula or started out with formula never once believed that formula is just like breast. Perhaps it’s because of the socio-economic group I am in, the education level, and the majority of these women having some sort of exposure to BF. I honestly think that the majority of women that use formula do it for WAY more complicated reasons, and it’s a thoughtful decision or necessity. Yes, in the advent of formula when physicians told mothers that it was better I would agree that advertising at that point played a huge roll in using formula. But, today when thankfully to many lactavists work, the initiation rates of BF are at such high rates I don’t believe the majority of women think breast and formula are the same.
The advertising comes into play when choosing one formula over another. The formula that I used isn’t advertised b/c they follow the WHO code, but it seems to be one of the healthiest options out there and many mothers don’t know anything about it until word of mouth after the fact and wished they knew about it sooner!


7 Suchada @ Mama Eve February 1, 2011

Darcie, I tend to agree with you, but I have friends (upper middle class, college-educated) who think that newer formulas are very similar to breastmilk. And when I look at formula advertising (especially Gerber), it looks like something pretty special to give your child.

I know there are many complex reasons women choose formula, and that’s actually something that’s gotten the wheels turning in my head. I think the complexity of the issue is why there is so much contention surrounding it. What I wonder about most is if we’re at a place where so much knowledge of breastfeeding has been lost that it can’t be regained to really be normal in our society. (I think similar things about conventional farming and eating habits). That’s the conspiracy theorist in me…

At any rate, all these comments have given me a lot of food for thought.


8 Jespren February 1, 2011

I have to add that not only have I read people expousing that formula is ‘just as good’ as breastmilk I’ve met some in person and am even related to some. I’m even related to some who think formula is BETTER than breastmilk. While I certainly think a lot of moms formula feed for a wide spectrum of reasons there are also more than enough, especially young mothers, who formula feed because they were given bottles at their baby shower, formula from the hospital, and choose which formula by the ads in baby magazines. In my 1st advertisement class (actually a segment in an art class discussing how colors effect our perception) one of the 2 ads we used as examples of ‘comfort’ advertising was an ad for formula (the other was for hot chocolate). We like to think that most people are smarter than that, but, unfortunately, most really are not, that’s why marketing is a multi billion dollar industry.


9 Suchada @ Mama Eve February 1, 2011

Great points, Jespren.

If advertising didn’t work, companies wouldn’t spend money one it. But I believe the people who say that advertising didn’t influence their *choice* in formula, because there are brands out there that aren’t advertised that are still popular.


10 Kathleen (amoment2think) February 2, 2011


I agree to a point. I totally agree that a portion of the women who use formula do so because they got samples at the hospital or were given bottles at their baby shower. To me, this has more to do with the general societal climate of breastfeeding versus formula feeding. And in the case where you are surrounded with formula friendly marketing messages- I understand that that has an impact. Which is why breastfeeding friendly PR and support is so important, especially in areas with low breastfeeding rates.

What I challenge is that for those people (like me, for example) who live in very breastfeeding friendly areas, who hear the message repeatedly about the benefits of breastfeeding, that formula marketing has as much of an impact. I knew from before I was pregnant that I wanted to breastfeed. I didn’t breastfeed past 4 months because it wasn’t working for me, not because of advertising.

In many ways I think breastfeeding advocates need to come at this issue from a different perspective. Instead of vilifying formula and formula advertising they need to focus on breastfeeding friendly messages and support. If there is true support and breastfeeding is promoted as the wonderful natural thing that it is.. without all this talk about formula being poison (which turns people off the message and has the result of preaching to the choir).. I think the results would be better. I think the image of the militant breastfeeding advocate is really really hurting the breastfeeding advocates cause. Because who wants to follow and join that club, when its seems all negative and strict and judgmental?

Sorry- I went off on a tangent there!! Not at all saying your are militant or anything… just started writing and didn’t stop. All I am saying is that I think advertising plays a part… but it is not the key factor worth focusing on, in my opinion.


11 kelly @kellynaturally February 3, 2011

I don’t think that advertising DOESN’T work for Tofurkey. It’s a completely different market. Formula is a need (perceived or real) for a large portion of the population. Tofurky or turkey is a desire, a feeling, a taste – but certainly neither (meat nor meat substitute) is a necessity. You can subsist on veggies. Additionally, even if Tofurky only were marketing to those it perceived as “needing” its product (i.e. vegetarians), you’re STILL looking at a tiny minority, compared to the number of human babies.

As a baby can’t subsist on nothing, so when breastmilk isn’t available, mothers turn to breastmilk. The only choice left to make, if you’ve already chosen not to breastfeed (out of need or desire), is donated milk (expensive & difficult to get) or formula (less expensive & readily available).

It comes down to basic numbers. More people need (or want) formula than need Tofurky – advertising follows need/want.

ps: As a 20+ year vegetarian (& 6+ year breastfeeder), I didn’t “call you out” on the Tofurky thing because, while we (my children & husband are also vegetarians) do eat it occasionally… it’s just not in the same ballpark as formula, due to the want/need issue above. I didn’t think that singing the praises of Tofurky would have added to the previous conversation. ;)


12 kelly @kellynaturally February 3, 2011

Whoops… meant to say, “so when breastmilk isn’t available, mothers turn to FORMULA”. Fruedian slip, I guess. Lactivist slip? ;)


13 Jessica Hanselman February 5, 2011

I think there might be a bigger demand for Tofurkey if our society inexplicably revered grocers as authorities the way we do doctors, and those grocers had a habit of telling shoppers, incorrectly, that there is a problem with the supply of real turkey, and then handed them some tofurkey on their…


14 Jessica Hanselman February 5, 2011

Also, I agree with JESPREN that part of the explanation is that parents are not the end user, but I disagree that they are the primary responders to the advertising. That would be the doctors, I think. How many times has a pharmaceutical rep selling formula taken you out on a golf outing, Mom? You aren’t the company’s main target.


15 anne March 1, 2011

i know i’m late on the topic, but i thought i’d add my two cents.

i fully planned to breastfeed only… but i didn’t know i needed to educate myself on the matter before i would be successful at it.

my flat nipples and lack of help from the nurses made it hard for me to breastfeed my baby. when the nurses whipped out the formula bottles, and told me my baby was going to starve if i didn’t feed it, i obviously used the formula…. which hindered my milk production.
when i got home, i tried to stop giving her formula as much but at her first check up she’d lost a pound and her doctor told me i had to supplement with formula at every feeding because i was starving my baby! i felt like the worst mom.

she’s four months old now. she gets about 10 ounces of formula a day, the rest from me. i’ve taken fenugreek and mothers milk tea, without much improvement in my supply.

the lame thing is, i didn’t know how milk production worked. i thought if i just gave my baby formula until i could really get her to latch, once she latched, i’d stop the formula. i wish i would have known more about the supply and demand. i knew breastfeeding was better, but i just didn’t have the support in the hospital to get me started. i think a lot of women out there know it’s better, but don’t know how to get a great supply started- a ton of my friends had the same issue as me.

we need to educate pregnant women about how their milk comes in! a lot know it’s better for the baby to be breastfed, but they end up not being able to because of supply problems! :(

as for picking a formula, in the hospital, they gave me similac, so i used that. but they also sent me home with enfamil, so i used up that can and just bought more similac cause it’s what i saw.
then i realized how cheap other brands were, so i bought target brand, up and up. and then a friend gave me a can of costco brand formula because her baby didn’t use it. really, the marketing didn’t affect my choices at all… it was the samples that the hospital gave me and just what the grocery store carried.

it wasn’t until just now, as i read this post that i realized all formula is not made the same. now i want to figure out what’s healthiest for my baby, not just cheapest! eek.

does anyone have any tips of how to choose the best, most natural formula for my little girl?
{sorry this is so long.}


16 Kendra March 14, 2011

I often see or read about a lot of women having milke suppply or it just not working out ( breast feeding) arounf 4 months or so? I have read some compelling studies about low supply and the 4 month mark which makes it evident there is a desperate need fo accurate bfing info to get to moms. But I was wondering what type of other problems cause that 4 month mark to but such a significant point of drop off?


17 ThoughtfulBirth September 8, 2011

Kendra, any social issues (going back to work at 6 or 12 weeks, wanting to get out of the house after the “fourth trimester” is over but not being comfortable with NIP, etc.) aside, four months is a time of big physical, emotional, and mental development for baby. This means baby is starting to get distracted by other things, may be needing to eat more often for a while to amp up mom’s supply due to physical growth, and may be changing his nursing patterns. Nursing strikes can also happen if baby is overstimulated or ill, and many moms misinterpret this as a lack of supply or a desire to wean. If a mom isn’t aware of growth spurts and increased nursing frequency as the normal way for baby to signal the breasts to make more milk, she may think she has a supply issue because her baby seems hungry all the time. If mom is trying to schedule feedings instead of nursing as needed, or she doesn’t realize that nursing patterns change (shorter sessions more often or vice versa, cluster feeding, etc.), she may end up with a supply issue, not because she can’t make that much milk, but because she’s not adjusting her routine to baby’s needs and therefore her body is not getting the signals it needs to make more milk as baby grows.


18 Danielle @ Analytical Mom August 18, 2011

Once again, I am way late to this party, but just wondering if any of you ladies have come across the formula recipes from the WAPF? One is raw-milk-based, and the other is milk-less, but they are a natural, non-processed alternative to commercial formulas. I’ve never used either, just thought if you do have to formula feed, you should know ALL your options, not just the ones that come in a can. :) westonaprice.org has the recipes under the children’s health section, I believe.


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