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Pfizer slammed for UK infant formula advertising code breach

By Mark Astley , 28-Nov-2012

SMA Nutrition manufacturer Pfizer has been scolded by the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for breaching an advertising code relating to the promotion of infant formula products.

The ASA upheld one of two complaints made against a May 2012 email sent by Pfizer to mothers of young children, offering advice on breastfeeding. The emails also made suggestions about combination feeding under the title, “Considering combination feeding?”

Another section of the email - titled “Thinking of Bottle Feeding?” - was accompanied by a picture of SMA First Infant Milk and a statement boasting of the products “protein profile and a new fat blend.”

According to Baby Milk Action – which was behind the original complaint - the email played on fears about milk intake and possible problems with breastfeeding, before promoting SMA infant formula.

DairyReporter.com approached Pfizer UK for comment on the ASA decision, but no one from the company was available prior to publication.

Breached ASA code

Baby Milk Action, which works to strengthen controls on baby food marketing, challenged whether the email breached the UK Advertising Code on two points – that it promoted infant formula and that it was sent without explicit consent.

The ASA upheld that the email breached Clause 15.10, which prohibits marketing communications for infant formula “except for those in a scientific publication or, for the purposes of trade before the retail stage, a publication of which the intended readers are not the general public.”

The second complaint was not upheld by the ASA.

“Because we considered that the email was an advertisement for the purposes of Code rule 15.10, we concluded that it was within the remit of the ASA and breached the Code by promoting infant formula,” said the ASA decision.

“The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told SMA not to produce marketing communications for infant formula except in a scientific publication or, for the purposes of trade before the retail stage, a publication of which the intended readers were not the general public,” the ASA decision concluded.

‘Despicable’ email campaign

Baby Milk Action has welcomed the ASA decision, labelling Pfizer’s email campaign as “despicable.”

“Pfizer/Wyeth can add this latest ruling against its marketing strategies to the others and its 2003 criminal conviction for a ‘cynical and deliberate breach of the regulations’ at that time,” said Baby Milk Action campaigns and networking co-ordinator, Mike Brady.

“The fact it thinks it can continue to get away with showing utter contempt for the regulations speaks volumes about how it puts its own profits before the well-being of babies and their families.”

“This email campaign was particularly despicable as it targeted mothers when their babies are four weeks of age and plays on fears and problems they may be experiencing with breastfeeding to push Pfizer/Wyeth’s SMA brand of formula,” Brady added.

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