Design and timing are everything


There’s been a lot of flack from breastfeeding advocates around the free formula samples that doctors and hospitals give out.

But from a marketer’s perspective and one customer, they’re doing something right. Is it what was inside the bag? Definitely, according to one new dad at Organic. Is it the fact that it was free? My bet.

Harpreet Sandhu and his wife (and daughter) took a liking to Nestle Good Start formula first after their daughter spit out the others. His fondness grew even more when he received the brand’s backpack full of goodies from his pediatrician.

“The most compelling things about the backpack were the design and content,” he raved. He likes that it is compact. Even the small changing pad has its own pocket. To him, it’s “the perfect size for carrying diapers, wipes and bottles when you have to go somewhere with your baby.”  The temperature-retaining material on the inside for holding milk along with and ice pack making it essentially a little cooler. Also the changing pad was compact and had its own pocket. The literature in the bag was interesting and filled with helpful advice. The backpack also included a DVD for new parents, growth charts and an interactive spinning wheel of advice for babies based on their ages.
This free backpack program has been going on for a couple years. And from a dad’s perspective, “It was the most useful package that I received during the whole birth process.” As if the backpack alone wasn’t enough. Inside is a free baby blanket, DVD, CD, bottle ice pack, photo album, diaper changing pad, money saving coupons and more. 

Harpreet admitted that it converted him into buying a few brands they were advertising in there. Not only could these promotions maintain or increase favorable perceptions of the brand. They may do it so well that users are likely to recommend it to a friend — or in Harpreet’s case, his sister-in-law who’s expecting her first baby soon.

In Harpreet’s situation, the pediatrician only offered the backpack when he and his wife said they were already using the brand. Though many hospitals are quick to give them out as soon as new mothers are released. Just look in any of the expectant parent magazines lying around OB/GYN offices and you’ll find a coupon that you’re supposed to give to your doctor for the free backpack.

When I had my baby, my hospital sent me home with a similar bag. It, too, had literature and coupons from some formula manufacturer. I had already made my decision to breastfeed and the nurses knew this, so I’m surprised they wasted their stash on me. But I took it anyway. At home, I recycled all of the literature and kept the free bag. I can’t even remember which brand sponsored it. I just remember how excited I was to get an extra bag — one that was insulated to carry extra bottles of breastmilk.

So are formula companies pushing a life choice upon a vulnerable target? Maybe. But we’re adults and we make our own decisions. And who’s to say that the Le Leche League or another group couldn’t put together the same backpack with a different logo? Well, one group has countered with their own campaign. Breastfeeding advocates created a program called Ban the Bags

As a breastfeeding supporter myself, I see why Nestle’s campaign would cause controversy. But as a marketer, that controversy tells me the brand hit home on something. It’s what we, at Organic, call empathy-led design.

How would opinions change if Nestle only distributed the bags through their website instead of hospitals and doctor’s offices? I ask the question of mothers and marketers alike.

Thanks to Harpreet Sandhu for sharing his exceptional experience.


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