Old Navy’s “Formula Powered” Onesie

I never thought I’d be writing a blog entry about a “onesie.” Onesies aren’t normally the subject of ethical debate or controversy. But then, it’s not often that the logo on a piece of clothing for infants raises the ire of breastfeeding advocates and raises the spectre of corporate collusion.

See: Mommy bloggers tear strip off Old Navy’s ‘Formula Powered’ outfit, by Tralee Pearce (Globe & Mail)

Mommy bloggers are up in arms over a baby outfit’s cheeky logo that has led retailer Old Navy to apologize to offended customers.

At issue? An air-force-style insignia on a dark green boy’s onesie reading “Formula Powered.” The outfit has enraged breastfeeding advocates across North America.

A number of mom bloggers have linked to the $5 (U.S.) item on Old Navy’s website while calling for a boycott of the chain, casting the item as a propaganda tool of the formula industry….

Note that there are two different complaints, here.

One is that Old Navy is, through this product, promoting use of formula, despite the evidence that in most cases breastfeeding is the superior alternative.

The other accusation — not attributed to anyone in particular — is interesting. And that’s the accusation that promotion of formula is not just the effect of the Old Navy onesie, but the intent. The claim that the onesie is a “propaganda tool of the formula industry” implies that this was an intentional move, perhaps one paid for by the makers of infant formula. As far as the G&M story indicates, that accusation is unsubstantiated. If this really is a marketing move on the part of the formula industry, that certainly would be interesting (and perhaps alarming). Does anyone know of any evidence one way or the other?

About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.
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One Response to Old Navy’s “Formula Powered” Onesie

  1. Anastasia says:

    I am totally with the groups saying that a pro-formula message isn’t appropriate and could even be harmful for young women deciding whether or not to breast feed. I don’t agree with calling formula dangerous. It’s a useful product in some situations, such as when a woman can not breast feed for medical reasons or in the case of adoption. I suppose throwing around claims of danger are common enough to be called normal, unfortunately.

    But the charges of intentional propaganda backed by industry? Really? Where do they get this stuff? I would be very surprised if it wasn’t just some poor Old Navy logo artist who innocently thought this would be cute followed by approval from whoever approves logos also innocently thinking it was cute. The “mommy bloggers” aren’t the only ones prone to leaping to conclusions, as the G&M article says:

    “Perhaps it’s a ploy on the part of Old Navy to generate some buzz,” said behavioural economist Dilip Soman of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

    Again, I’d be very surprised if Old Navy did this on purpose.

    Instead of using this as a teaching moment for the nation, these women look crazy.

    I think this situation is analogous to groups that promote organic or sustainable farming. Most of us can agree that sustainable farming, like breast feeding, are good things that should be advocated. But instead of advocating for the thing they support, they invest huge amounts of time and effort trying to smear whatever it is they think the alternative is. Wouldn’t a positive message be more effective in the long term than a negative message?

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