The company's approach highlights changing attitudes toward motherhood and education in Asia. Earlier generations relied on family members for childcare advice. Today, young Asian women are as likely to ask their questions on the Internet.
The widely believed myths highlighted in the campaign, created by Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, include the notion that drinking papaya soup improves a woman's ability to breast feed, and that giving cold milk to a baby is dangerous because it cools down body temperature. Also, if a mother looks at ugly things while pregnant, her child will be ugly, and killing an animal while pregnant means the child will look like the animal that was killed.
Mead Johnson is retelling these old-fashioned fables that were once faithfully passed down from mother to daughter in TV, radio and print media, particularly magazines aimed at new mothers. The campaign is running in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei and is expected to run across Asia.
The ads humorously depict the old tales while directing women to Mead Johnson's Web site (meadjohnsonasia.com), which has been transformed from a hard-sell marketing platform to a virtual community for mothers.
The English-language site offers nutrition advice for babies and children as well as the "Asian Mom Network," an online forum featuring topics such as "What The Western Baby Books Don't Take Into Account" and "Asian Values."
"The Web site was created to gain their trust with solid information. When they go to the store to buy formula, hopefully that trust will translate into sales," said Craig Davis, Saatchi's regional creative director, Hong Kong.
Mead Johnson hopes to boost sales in a key region for baby and child nutritional-supplement brands such as Enfa, Sustagen, Alacta and Lactum, as formulas are still preferred over breastfeeding throughout Asia.
Although there is no data yet to evaluate the campaign, Edmund Choe, executive creative director of Saatchi in Kuala Lumpur, said, "The Web site is getting visited very frequently, even by non-expectant mothers. Now the plan is to take it across Asia. Other markets will have different stories, of course, but the campaign can be easily adapted."
Saatchi picked up the account last April, after Publicis closed D'Arcy, Mead Johnson's previous agency. Annual billings are $35 million for Asia, Canada, Brazil and Mexico, but the bulk of media spending is earmarked for China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.
In some cases, the questionable old wives' tales may find a new home online. On the chat section of Mead Johnson's Malaysian Web site, new mothers debate whether eating hot and spicy food typical of Malaysian cuisine is harmful during pregnancy. One mother offers a sure-fire remedy: Drink coconut milk before the birth to cool down the baby.