A Multi-country marketing study of infant feeding decision-making: data analysis from the South African arm of the study.


A multi-country study was conducted by M&C Saatchi in eight countries, including South Africa, using consumer and marketing methodologies to explore how pregnant women and mothers make their infant feeding decisions.  The lifelong benefits of breastfeeding for mothers and children are well established, and marketing of breast-milk substitutes is known to negatively affect feeding practices. This study aimed to explore how women, mothers and health workers perceive and experience marketing messages, and how these messages influence infant feeding decision-making. In this project we teamed up with a group of academics and researchers across South Africa to analyse and write up the data from this study.

The marketing of breast-milk substitutes aims to persuade parents, families, health professionals as well as broader society, that a particular commercial formula product is superior, has special properties or is the aspirational choice.  Marketing activities include advertising and product promotion, which include communication of messages designed to encourage the consumption of the product or to raise awareness of the brand. In addition to promotional techniques aimed directly at consumers, indirect measures such as social media outreach, cross-promotion, and promotion to health professionals are employed by commercial formula companies. Cross-promotion refers to use of promotional activities for one product to promote another product, and can include packaging, branding and labelling of a product to closely resemble that of another.

The Breast-milk Substitutes Marketing research in South Africa was conducted by a local marketing agent under the supervision of experts from M&C Saatchi World Services. The study included a desk review and marketing analysis, a series of focus group discussions with pregnant women and mothers, in-depth interviews with pregnant women  and mothers, including completion of marketing diaries. In-depth interviews were also conducted with health professionals involved in the care of pregnant women and young children.

Data from women and health workers was collected by trained moderators in urban areas in Cape Town and Johannesburg. Convenience sampling techniques were used: women were approached by researchers in public areas (streets or shopping malls), and snowball techniques were also used to access additional participants.

The CRH team are working together with colleagues at School of Public Health, University of Western Cape, SA Medical Research Council, UNICEF, South Africa, and WHO to analyse and write up the data from the South African arm of the study. This included analysis of 1) FGDs with pregnant women and mothers, 2) In-depth interviews with health practitioners, 3) marketing diaries and ethnographic interviews with mothers.

 Three manuscripts have been developed, two have been submitted and a third is in final draft.