Ethics of Marketing Case Study: Woman Who Miscarries Twins Receives Unwanted Samples of Similac Baby Formula

Hi 👋 Peeps,

I had some things I wanted to say about this story right here:

A woman who miscarried twin boys is devastated that information she gave to a trusted store ended up in the hands of third-party marketing companies — resulting in baby formula arriving at her door when she was no longer pregnant.“-Rosa Marchitelli · CBC News 

Image Credit: (Tina Mackenzie/CBC). Woman received a package like this one less than two months after she lost her twin boys to miscarriage. 

Full story here:

Ethics in Marketing: Case Study

While this woman was pregnant she opted in to “Motherhood Maternity” clothing store’s rewards program.

Which is fine. New moms need support during the early years of raising an infant. Diapers, baby formula, toys, tiny clothes… things are expensive.

Some moms have difficulty with breastfeeding and opt to use baby formula.

So Similac being a baby formula company is trying to serve women who want to bottle feed their babies.

In an effort to serve this group of customers, a few marketing processes went very wrong here.

Unfortunately this woman suffered a miscarriage and lost her twin boys. (I want to send my thoughts and prayers to her and her family, I’m sorry for her loss).

Months later, she began getting free but unwanted samples of Similac baby formula in the mail.

She experienced a few emotions.

One sadness because it reminded her of her loss.

Two anger because she didn’t remember Opt-ing in to receive free samples of baby formula from Similac in the first place.

And three, the frustration of trying to get her name off the mailing list and her private data being given out to a company she didn’t authorize.

So a Few Thoughts Here When It Comes Ethical Marketing :

1. Know Your Customers Inside & Out and Where To Find Them

I think when we are so focused on the revenue and profits we sometimes forget our customers are people with thoughts and feelings who are entrusting us “business folk” with their data and their hard earned dollars.

We have to think about everything possible that our customers might experience and do our best to accommodate them.

Around 20% of pregnant women will experience a miscarriage. That’s a significant amount. Enough that you might want to wait and have them opt in again once the baby is born for free samples.

If your ideal customer is a woman who wants to give her baby formula then perhaps it’s important to ensure that the mother has indeed given birth to a baby and wants the free formula samples in the first place.

A better place is to find 🎯 moms with newborns would likely be hospital maternity floors, mid-wives, family doctors, baby stores, baby showers registries, grocery store campaigns etc.

Not necessarily in pregnancy at a clothing store where 15-20% of your potential customers may have a miscarriage.

2. Make It An Extremely Simple Process For Them to Opt Out or Unsubscribe

People love free things until they don’t. In this case this company made a mistake and I don’t believe there was any intent to hurt the customer but now it’s time to help this woman through a difficult situation by making it easy to get her off the mailing list and ensure she doesn’t receive anything more unless she opts-in.

3: A Sincere Apology from The Top

We are human and not perfect. We make mistakes. As a business owner you have to listen to your customer, make them feel heard, get in their shoes and admit when your company did something wrong.

Dear Mrs. M,
Our deepest sympathies for the loss of your children.
I apologized for any further pain our company may have caused during this difficult time.
We will immediately remove your name from our customer data base and investigate this incident.
We promise you that we will make every effort moving forward so that this doesn’t happen again to another woman.
Our company has partnered with a support group for women who have suffered a loss. If you would like to connect with them this is their (contact information).
If you have any feedback on what our company could have done differently or how we could improve our process please reach out to me personally.
CEO- Contact Info

4. Consider A Way To Turn A Bad Situation Into A Positive One

Perhaps Similac could donate to or start a fund for a support system for mothers who have experienced a miscarriage.

Another need I’ve seen for women is a lack of compassion from hospital systems to provide them with a private quiet space to experience their loss. Many are left in the ER waiting room bathroom in tears while denied a bed or room. Perhaps Similac could sponsor such rooms.

Educate others through their company on how to help grieving women who have suffered the loss of their children.

Here is well written article on “how to support women after a miscarriage”:

5. Never Ever Sell or Share Anyone’s Personal Information and Deliver What You Said You’d Deliver

“The practice of companies sharing and selling sensitive customer information to other marketers is appalling.” -Former Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian

This one should be self explanatory but some businesses are so desperate for sales they sell out their customer list to others who are willing to pay for it.

I’ve experienced unwanted emails from business coaches and it’s super annoying.

Some company sending me emails and I have no clue who they are. But I can narrow down a few companies they’re affiliated with who likely gave them my info. When this happens I lose all trust with the company that gave my info out.

6. Fix The Problem Immediately

If there’s one complaint there’s likely many more out there.

I began to google “unwanted Similac samples” and research if other women had this same experience with this same story and I found they had.

Chicago woman who wasn’t pregnant received samples.

“For me, number one–it felt like a huge privacy breach to have something like this show up at a family member’s door,” Dana said. “It is highly insensitive for people who, I mean imagine if you were going through infertility, if you had recently lost a child, if you are adamant about not having children.”– Dana Bottenfield

It appears to be an ongoing problem with Similac and the marketing company they use sending free samples to women that never opted in.

“The whole scenario “stinks” of data aggregators. Those are the companies that collect information about consumers’ every move online, then compile lists of names to sell to companies for marketing purposes.”- DePaul Professor Jacob Furst

Reddit Forum- Women in the Forum Discuss the Same Unwanted Samples in the Mail

The Bump

Women finding it creepy they’re being sent products they don’t remember signing up for.

My Advice to Similac:

Their Sample program needs to be on customer demand and priority for people who sign up via their website.

I read several posts on their Facebook page from potential customers who signed up and never received the free samples? 🤔

The list they got from Motherhood Maternity Store should have been sent another email opt-in around the due date time to receive a free sample to ensure that…

  1. Moms had the chance to try breastfeeding. 🤱

2. Moms who truly wanted the free samples could “opt-in” to receive them.

3. The 20% of women who had a miscarriage or still birth could opt-out and not feel horrible receiving a package in the mail welcoming them to parenting 😕.

This will likely also help the company save money sending the wrong people costly samples, save themselves from embarrassing media coverage and angry customers venting all over the web and more importantly from potential customers to be feeling terrible after you sent them an inappropriate package in the mail.

Reading through their customer feedback it also appears they are having a supply problem. Many customer complaints about not having products in their town. They could focus some of the costs from the “unwanted samples” to creating more product.

Be more transparent about the list and what they will receive and when.

Making it very clear that they’re signing up for a list that will send them free Similac samples and when they can expect to receive them.

If you have any input about ethical marketing or comments about this story, I’d love to hear it.

-Steph ❤️

Bio: Steph is a mom, RN and Entrepreneur. She enjoys sharing her tips to help others live a great life.

P.S. Follow me on social media Facebook page, instagram, twitter and YouTube.

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