Baby products create a $23 billion industry in the United States alone (O’Brien, MarketWatch.com). But what exactly are consumers buying at such a high price? Introducing “smart” baby monitors. Electronic devices for infants like Mimo, Sproutling, and Owlet are being sold at an increasing rate to today’s new parents. How are these new products being marketed and are they necessary?
The audience for wearable infant technology are new parents who are young, tech savvy, and also full of fear. The highest motivator for purchasing such a monitor is a parent’s worst nightmare: sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). SIDS is the unexplainable death of a physically healthy infant. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development defines SIDS as “the sudden, unexplained death of a baby younger than 1 year of age that doesn’t have a known cause even after a complete investigation including performance of a complete autopsy, examination of the death scene, and review of the clinical history” (U.S. Food & Drug Administration, fda.gov) The aforementioned products do not openly claim to prevent or reduce the risk of SIDS but Dulcie Madden, co-founder of Rest Devices, the tech company behind Mimo “acknowledged, without prompting, that’s precisely what the parents who’ve tested their product talk the most about” (McRobbie, slate.com). Therefore, the creators of these products rely on pathos. The emotional responses in parents, such as fear, anxiety, stress, confusion, and love of their new child drive them to eagerly spend $200 to $300 on a smart baby monitor.
A 2014 article published in the Journal of Consumer Affairs, studied the effects marketing claims have on parents and the likelihood of purchasing. Under it section titled, “Parents’ Reactions to Vague and Explicit Claims and Cues” the article states, “parents may engage in biased processing, rather than closer analysis, of such statements” (342). In other words, when results are simply implied in marketing for children’s products, parents are apt to interpret promises of a desirable outcome. The first thing a visitor sees when going to Owlet’s website (owletcare.com) is, “Know Your Baby is Okay.” Scrolling further down the page, the site informs visitors in large font, “sleep-related risks are highest during the first year of life. We believe we can help parents…” Sproutling’s website (fisher-price.mattel.com/shop/en-us/fp/sproutling-sleep-wearable-fnf59) states its product “provides peace of mind” and is “more secure than traditional monitors.”
However, the consumer is not presented with ethos or logos to support these claims. True SIDS is not preventable or curable. In fact, a study published in the Maternal & Child Health Journal found that among sudden unexpected infant deaths (SUIDs), medical examiners “identified 47.9% as accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed” and only 16.7 % as SIDS (381). Thus, parents should be focusing on safe sleeping practices and safe sleeping environments instead as recommended by organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, which provides evidence based guidelines free of charge (“SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Updated 2016 Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment”).
American Academy of Pediatrics. “SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Updated 2016 Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment.” Pediatrics, vol. 138, no. 5, 2016, doi:10.1542/peds.2016-2938.
This article is presented by the AAP, a professional organization focusing on the health of children. It includes guidelines for preventing sudden unexpected infant death (SUIDs). It is used in this essay as a contrast to smart baby monitors.
Greenfield, Rebecca. “Tracked Since Birth: The Rise Of Extreme Baby Monitoring.” Fast Company, Fast Company Magazine, 15 Nov. 2013, http://www.fastcompany.com/3021601/tracked-since-birth-the-pros-and-cons-of-extreme-baby-monitoring.
Fast Company examines the pros and cons of using smart baby monitors and covers different buying options. This article cites several credible sources such as doctors, medical studies and the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
McRobbie, Linda Rodriguez. “Smart Monitors Cannot Protect Babies From SIDS, So What Are They for?” Slate Magazine, The Slate Group, 18 Feb. 2014, http://www.slate.com/articles/life/family/2014/02/mimo_and_other_smart_baby_monitors_don_t_protect_from_sids_so_what_are_they.html.
Slate reviews smart baby monitors with a focus on sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). This article cites several credible sources such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
O’Brien, Elizabeth. “10 Things the Baby-Product Industry Won’t Tell You.” MarketWatch, MarketWatch Inc., 15 Apr. 2014, http://www.marketwatch.com/story/10-things-the-baby-product-industry-wont-tell-you-2014-04-11.
MarketWatch provides statistics on the baby industry and consumer purchases in this article.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Baby Products with SIDS Prevention Claims.” USFDA, Center for Devices and Radiological Health, 3 Oct. 2017, http://www.fda.gov/medicaldevices/productsandmedicalprocedures/sidspreventionclaims/default.htm.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) explains that they have not cleared or approved a baby product to prevent or reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and covers such claims including what types of baby devices are regulated by the FDA.
Sauber-Schatz, Erin, et al. “Comprehensive Review of Sleep-Related Sudden Unexpected
Infant Deaths and Their Investigations: Florida 2008.” Maternal & Child Health Journal, vol. 19, no. 2, Feb. 2015, pp. 381-390. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s10995-014-1520-1.
This study analyzes the occurrence of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and other sudden unexpected infant deaths (SUIDs), by reviewing medical examiner reports, hospital records, and law enforcement records. It is used in this essay to compare the prevalence of SIDS with other SUIDs.
Vaala, Sarah E. and Matthew A. Lapierre. “Marketing Genius: The Impact of Educational Claims and Cues on Parents’ Reactions to Infant/Toddler DVDs.” Journal of Consumer Affairs, vol. 48, no. 2, Summer 2014, pp. 323-350. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/joca.12023.
This study tested the impact of DVD brand name, educational claim specificity, and a personality dimension on parents’ perceptions of educational value and purchase intentions. Parents reacted similarly to specific and ambiguous educational statements. It is used in this essay as an example of how marketing can be misleading.