Strike Five: Why Mead Johnson Keeps Airing Misleading Baby-Formula Ads

Last Updated May 20, 2010 4:37 PM EDT

Mead Johnson (MJN) has been caught making misleading claims about its Enfamil infant formula for a staggering fifth time, confirming the company's role as a poster child for corporate wrongdoing. The company lost three previous federal lawsuits over its Enfamil advertising. Today's decision is the second to go against Mead from the ad business's self-policing body, the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. A previous NAD ruling led to a referral to the FTC.

There's no MBA-level insight to be gleaned here, except this obvious rule: Don't be like Mead Johnson.

Make no mistake, Mead isn't simply unlucky or having a bad three years at the office: The company is actively attempting to sail as close to the wind as possible. This is the same outfit that is doing its part in the nation's fight against obesity by selling chocolate- and vanilla-flavored baby formula.

Today's decision was about an old obsession of Mead's: The claim that Enfamil is good for growth, brain or eye health. In previous ads, Mead had shown an alarming blurry picture of a cartoon duck, which suggested feeding infants anything but Enfamil will result in reduced vision and brain development.

NAD said that Mead's recent claim that "only" Enfamil has a "Triple Health Guard" that promotes growth, brain and eye development is equally bogus. (A TV commercial showed an actor portraying a pediatrician who says: "I tell Moms, be picky. Look for the baby formula proven to offer three benefits." The "doctor" then turns to a checklist marked "Growth," "Brain and Eye" and "Immune System.") NAD said:
NAD determined that the advertising at issue conveyed the message that that the product was the only infant formula that offered the three advertised benefits, a message that was not supported by the evidence in the record.

Enfamil Premium has not been shown to be superior to competing formulas in the touted performance areas.
NAD didn't go far enough. It's worth mentioning that Enfamil is identical to store-brand infant formula, because the companies all get their ingredients from the same suppliers. And also that the company is being sued in a class-action suit on those claims.

Mead said it would stop advertising Enfamil as such, but -- lo and behold! -- the company's web site shows all the claims are still up there, including the infamous "if you don't use Enfamil your baby will go blind!" blurry duck (pictured).

Mead is needlessly scaring parents with misleading ads for a product that has repeatedly been found to be no better than anyone else's. The FTC needs to pick up NAD's referral and do its job.

In the meantime, blogger moms should use their online power to spread the word about Mead's trustworthiness: Ladies, start your keyboards!

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