USDA: WIC Breastfeeding Support Campaign

    Reimagining USDA’s social marketing campaign for a new generation of low-income, breastfeeding moms

Given the benefits it can have, breastfeeding is widely accepted as a way to improve public health. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of their lives. Yet, data from the CDC show that only about 58 percent of infants are still breastfeeding at six months. That’s because countless intrapersonal and environmental barriers exist for breastfeeding women. Many are not prepared for the exhaustion, frustration, and pain that comes with breastfeeding. And without knowledge, skills, and support, it’s no surprise that many moms give up breastfeeding.

In 1997, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) launched Loving Support Makes Breastfeeding Work, a social marketing campaign aimed at improving breastfeeding rates among mothers enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (better known as WIC). Nearly two decades after its launch, FNS engaged Hager Sharp to update Loving Support. Taking into consideration the outdated campaign brand, significant changes in the technological landscape, and shifts in breastfeeding policy, Hager Sharp embarked on a journey to reimagine Loving Support for a new generation of WIC participants.

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Research & Evaluation

We conducted extensive formative research to explore knowledge, self-efficacy, and perceptions about breastfeeding among WIC moms and their support systems. Our research included:

  • An environmental scan comprising a literature review, an audit of other relevant campaigns, a policy landscape review, and a media analysis;
  • A digital audit of breastfeeding content across social media and digital platforms;
  • The development of distinct audience personas;
  • In-depth interviews with key stakeholders;
  • Mobile ethnography, including a smartphone-based platform to solicit WIC mothers’ first-hand insights about breastfeeding as they were happening; and
  • Exploratory and concept testing focus groups.

We learned that moms understand the benefits of breastfeeding but lack knowledge of other aspects of breastfeeding, which leads to a lack of skills and confidence. We also discovered that even when moms intend to breastfeed, it’s a lot harder than they expect, and barriers stand in the way. It was clear that the outside environment greatly impacts a mom’s ability to breastfeed, especially when she is going back to work or school. Further, WIC participants sought a relationship with the WIC program that was supportive and non-judgmental.

These insights drove campaign development, including an effort to better target and segment WIC audiences, updates to campaign goals and objectives, and a new campaign strategy and brand.

Our innovative mobile ethnography approach enabled our team to immerse ourselves in the lives of underserved women, understanding the emotional and physical challenges and triumphs of breastfeeding, in their own words and as they were occurring.
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Strategic Planning

Using insights from our research, Hager Sharp recommended one overarching campaign strategy: position WIC as the go-to resource for breastfeeding information and support by tapping into a feeling of empowerment and letting moms know they are not alone on their breastfeeding journey. Ultimately, it was crucial that the campaign brand and all touchpoints assured moms that they could make it to the next day, week, or month—and that WIC was there every step of the way with information, advice, and support.

Our formative research also served as the foundation for the comprehensive social marketing campaign plan, which detailed goals and objectives, audience segments, and behavioral theories. We also rooted the campaign tactics in the 4Ps marketing framework. We made recommendations for new and updated products and services, including a Buddy Program, that we believed would better facilitate behavior change, and we offered ways FNS could create an exchange with the audience so that the benefits of breastfeeding outweighed the perceived costs. Finally, we offered suggestions for how FNS could provide better access to its breastfeeding services and make the breastfeeding experience more convenient, and we recommended an array of innovative tactics to promote breastfeeding and the campaign itself.

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We used the 4Ps framework—or “marketing mix”—applying commercial marketing principles around product, price, place, and promotion to ensure our campaign was audience-centric and addressed WIC moms’ needs.
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Branding & Messaging

As part of updating the Loving Support campaign, we made the strategic decision to embark on a complete campaign rebrand. The Hager Sharp team developed a new campaign name, WIC Breastfeeding Support, which better leverages the familiarity, equity, and credibility of the WIC program and more directly explains what moms can get and expect from the campaign. We also developed a new tagline, Learn Together. Grow Together., which speaks to the breastfeeding journey. This tagline brings in authenticity by acknowledging that the journey will be filled with ups and downs and that it will take time to find success, but with time, practice, and patience, moms can reach their breastfeeding goals. To visually represent the brand, we developed a logo that symbolizes love and connection, representing not only the bond between a mom and her baby, but the bond moms develop with WIC as well. We also chose a bright, vibrant color palette and created tailored messages for each audience.

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Creative Development

After developing the brand, we concepted and created materials to promote the campaign; help WIC participants learn about breastfeeding, overcome challenges, and meet their goals; offer advice to dads and grandparents; and aid WIC staff in supporting breastfeeding moms. Materials included videos, posters, a breastfeeding basics fact sheet, a campaign overview document, and a one-pager on what to expect during each stage of the breastfeeding journey. We also created an exhibit booth for FNS to use at various conferences and events and a series of materials, including a pledge, fact sheet, and flyer, to support the Buddy Program, which pairs moms with similar due dates or whose babies are born around the same date so they can provide support to each other. To ensure that the imagery used throughout the materials resonated and that the audience could see themselves and their experiences reflected in the campaign, we held a photo shoot with real breastfeeding WIC moms.

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Video Production

Videos were a key component of the new WIC Breastfeeding Support campaign. During the photo shoot we held to capture still images for the materials, we also recorded real WIC moms sharing their experience with breastfeeding—how they established the right latch, dealt with pain, got comfortable breastfeeding in public, overcame concerns with milk supply, and found a way to focus on their own emotional wellbeing. We then turned the footage into a series of videos that provided a realistic depiction of breastfeeding, while offering encouragement and support and highlighting how WIC can help. We also created videos for dads and grandmas about the role they play in helping a breastfeeding mom and a scripted brand essence video that described WIC Breastfeeding Support.

Website Development

To bring the campaign rebrand to life, we developed an entire campaign website from scratch, including site structure, navigation, content, graphics, videos, and a resource database for WIC staff and peer counselors. We organized the website in such a way that WIC moms can access relevant information according to where they are in their breastfeeding journey (i.e., Learn, Start, Overcome, Thrive) or key topics (i.e., Breastfeeding 101, Common Questions and Challenges, Expressing and Pumping Milk, Going Back to Work). We worked with a subject matter expert to draft evidence-based content in an accessible, empathetic tone that would resonate with WIC moms as they navigate breastfeeding. We then developed the website to align with USDA’s template and requirements. The final campaign website included more than dozens of pages of brand-new, engaging content for WIC women to use throughout their breastfeeding journey.

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