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Formula, Responsibility and Influencers

It has been an interesting week. A situation came up on social media (Instagram) around the influencership and marketing of formula. I was going to let the issue rest as it was, until both my husband and I received threatening phone calls from the influencers PR company late last night. The influencer has also taken to straight lying in comments on social media.

I draw the line at that.

Some of you are aware of what has happened but for those that are not here is the background for you.

A large, well known influencer in Australia with 114,000 followers posted the below paid advertisement for a formula company called Nature One Dairy Australia.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) Breastfeeding Code provides clear guidelines around the marketing of formula in order to protect those who are not privileged with education or the understanding to be able to make an informed choice about this. The formula industry is extremely lucrative and this code is designed to protect those most vulnerable.

To be crystal clear – this is NOT about formula feeding.

It never was and still is not.

You can read about my own breastfeeding struggles here which I have shared publicly.

This is about the MARKETING of formula.

The WHO Breastfeeding Code is freely available and here is a great fact sheet about why it is in place.

This is not the first time I have seen a paid influencer inaccurately share information about formula.

I wrote the following comment on the post. I did it publicly because if done privately it would have been most likely ignored, not responded and swept under the it has done previously.

After others also commented on this, and some back and forth with the formula company (or whoever was in charge of the social media for the formula company) the post by the end of the day did get changed which I thanked the influencer for in my stories:

The PR agent for the formula company contacted me privately on Instagram asking for a phone number to rectify the issue. I provided it in good faith and times I was available, thinking this was the end of the issue.

However, rather than having a conversation the PR agent threatened me calling me a “nobody” and said that “nobody cares about you” and that they have a “big shot in the formula industry” and nothing was against the WHO code in the post….before hanging up.

I promptly called my husband who phoned the agent back to see just what was it they wanted. He then received several calls himself from this PR agent threatening and abusing him. To quote:

“They know people in high places”

“They have money like you would not believe it"

“She is a nobody with a PhD” and “they are not going to let this go”

This behaviour is NOT OK. This is the very reason health professionals do not take a stand against such issues. While I maybe used to such abuse (see previous blogs here) it does not mean this is appropriate.

I maybe a nobody with my small following of 6000 on Instagram compared to the influencer. I may not have such high powered connections that they do.

But I have a care of duty however to those most vulnerable.

So do paid influencers, marketers and advertisers.

The influencer has gone on to make the the following comment which is just lying:

It is ridiculous seeing as I have the collection of stories I shared originally and my only direct mention of the influencer was as above to thank her for changing the wording to reflect the minimum of what the code requires (note there was no change to the image or acknowledgement that the influencer is not a health professional).

Since then the original post has been edited a third time:

In addition, you will see that since this has unfolded the formula company has simply removed all of their posts on their Instagram account....or blocked my account from seeing these posts.

I went public on the post because it was a public post! What cannot be seen or measured is how many people have seen this information. The second a post goes up a lot of damage can get done. It is why the code exists. I know because of how many direct messages I got.

I have not even got started on the ‘loop-hole’ that currently exists around the marketing of toddler milk and “stage 3” which prays on current brand awareness. There is a mass of research calling for this to change.

So this is a call to all industry players involved.

This a call for influencers to be responsible for what they promote and what they say BEFORE they post it and take a paycheck or free product for doing so.

It is also a call for formula companies to be responsible for what is shared online, how it is shared and by whom in order to adhere to the international codes that protect our most vulnerable.

I absolutely agree that parents need to be able to make informed choices about feeding their babies. I have been on national television demanding for this!

But this is NOT how it is done. It hinders our cause, not supports it.

Let alone the resorting to the tactics used against my family.

The days of behind the scenes intimidation, threats and bank balance bullying are long gone.

I will not stand for it. I will not hide it.

I refuse to be part of such systemic cycles and will continue to use my voice to protect those who need it most.

x Dr Julie

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