Companies are constantly on my case about breasts.
As an advertising reporter who happens to be eight months pregnant, I have been targeted relentlessly, since I first typed “expecting” into a search engine, by unnaturally rosy ads about maternity bras, anti-stretch lotions, latch-aiding bottles and nursing support pillows.
But on Sunday, a commercial that presents a more realistic look at parenting will be shown during NBC’s prime time broadcast of the 78th Golden Globe Awards. The spot, from the parenting products company Frida, shows new mothers dealing with cluster feedings, applying cabbage compresses and, in a rarity for national TV, exposing breasts clogged and stretched by the effort of nourishing their babies.
In its first TV commercial, Frida shows real mothers caring for their children to showcase the often unglamorous and painful lactation experience. The commercial, accompanied by the message “Care for your breasts, not just your baby,” promotes the company’s Frida Mom line of nursing pillows, massagers, gummies and other products.
“We agree that the ad may push the envelope, but it is the context surrounding the visuals that makes this ad different, and we stand by it,” NBCUniversal said in a statement.
Frida worked with the network on a 30-second edit that blurs or covers nipples that are visible in the original 75-second ad — a “fairly robust editing process at NBCU’s insistence,” said Chelsea Hirschhorn, the company’s chief executive, in a statement.
She added that the point of the ad remained intact — “that the physical and emotional breastfeeding journey puts an unrivaled pressure on women to ‘perform,’ and no longer should women be expected to prioritize making milk over their own physical discomfort.”
On YouTube, the original ad, which was posted on Feb. 24, already has more than 1.4 million views.
The spot was created by the ad agency Mekanism, a San Francisco shop that has created campaigns for Ben & Jerry’s, HBO and, famously, Peloton. It was directed by Rachel Morrison, who was the first woman to be nominated for a cinematography Oscar for her work on the 2017 drama “Mudbound.”
Last year, Frida produced an ad showing an exhausted new mother in diaperlike postpartum underwear plodding to the bathroom. The commercial, according to the company, was blocked from airing during the Oscars because it was considered too graphic.
As pregnant women form purchasing preferences that often extend for years after their babies are born, they become a highly desirable demographic to marketers. Janet Vertesi, an associate professor of sociology at Princeton who experimented with hiding her pregnancy from internet trackers, estimated in 2014 that an average pregnant woman’s marketing data is worth $1.50, while a regular person’s is worth 10 cents. This month, the diaper brand Huggies aired a commercial during the Super Bowl that cost millions of dollars to place.
Many of the ads encountered by first-time parents favor modesty over authenticity. Instagram ads tend to focus more on warm images of cooing babies cuddled by radiant, fully covered mothers and less on the agony of aggressive feedings and the mess of midnight cleanups.
The disconnect can leave first-time parents underprepared during a transitional period often described as the fourth trimester. And during the pandemic, the difficulties have been intensified for the families of the more than 116 million babies expected to have been born since March.
Recently, there has been more talk about postpartum care (as well as issues like pregnancy discrimination and career trajectories for mothers) from brands, service providers and celebrities like Katy Perry, Ashley Graham and Chrissy Teigen.
Last week, in an attempt to normalize the “whole new world” of breastfeeding, bottles and pumps, the baby products company Tommee Tippee began circulating upbeat ads that showed a variety of nursing women amid a montage of fruits, basketballs and other stand-ins for bosoms.
The so-called Boob Life campaign will be relegated mostly to digital platforms, said Jessica Becker, a managing partner at Manifest, the ad agency behind the effort. It “would not meet the ad regulations in the U.S.” for a broadcast run and was rejected by television channels in Britain and Australia “as it was deemed ‘adult content,’” she said in an email.
“The film is meant to celebrate women’s postpartum bodies (something our insight shows is a great struggle for them) and isn’t in any way sexualized,” Ms. Becker added. “So we’re hugely disappointed it won’t make it to TV.”