Publicly attack an All Black and loving father for how he chooses to raise his child. This isn’t about the rights and wrongs of breast vs formula vs expressing. I can’t speak to the science of that. But I’ll tell you that La Leche, Plunket, and the Council of Midwives have done massive damage to their own cause with this PR fiasco. Just pure, arrogant stupidity.
If there’s a few mores of New Zealand culture it’s that All Blacks are close to gods, people hate being told how to raise their kids (but are happy for others to be told how to raise theirs), and any sign of arrogance or busy-bodiness attracts a strong backlash.
By getting an anti-smoking ad withdrawn because it showed 2 seconds of Piri Weepu bottle-feeding his daughter on the justification that this would ‘send a bad message’, La Leche and co made a serious PR misjudgement. Plunket and the Council of Midwives have now shamefacedly backed down, which leaves La Leche looking arrogant and out of touch.
If you want mothers to breastfeed, don’t try to berate them into doing it and don’t humiliate a national hero who loves his daughter and was just trying to help another great cause. Don’t brand him and his partner bad parents with no knowledge of their circumstances (or even if it was breastmilk in the bottle!). Think about how that looks to every woman who is having trouble breastfeeding or is apprehensive (also known as La Leche’s target audience). This fiasco will just make women less receptive to listening to breastfeeding advocates and, therefore, less likely to breastfeed, which, presumably, isn’t La Leche’s objective.
There’s a broader lesson here for any activist or political group:
Pick your fights – you need a chance of winning (and have a definition of what winning is) and the ‘evil’ that you’re fighting has to be worth the blowback. Not everyone who fails to comply completely with your agenda is an enemy that you have to crush – the more you try to bash people for minor doctrinal infringements, the fewer friends and the less power you will be left with.
Get your messaging right – People respond to positive messages, not negative ones. Be careful that you never come across as whinging (Labour, I’m looking at you), hectoring (the Greens have largely stopped doing that) or arrogant (something National is coming across as increasingly).
Know when you’re beat and quit before you do yourself more damage.
[update: because commenters seem to have trouble with this, I’ll say it again: I’m not arguing a side on breast v bottle, and I’m not anti-La Leche. If anything this post is pro-La Leche because it’s about explaining how their actions have run counter to their own objectives, which is something they probably want to avoid]