Mommy marketing: I have the power! And the stuff!

So, I’m going to have a baby at some point in the near future… the very near future. Our official due date is September 13, a mere six weeks away!  This has big news for all of our friends and family, and everyone has been wonderful, sending us warm wishes, gender-neutral gifts and (often unsolicited and somewhat weird) advice.  And, by “everyone,” I even mean some of the largest companies in the world; the friendly folks at Proctor & Gamble, Disney, Johnson & Johnson, Kimberly-Clark, Target, Burlington, “R” Us and Bonnier have all sent coupons, samples and literature to us in the last six months. (Note to Bonnier: One issue of Parenting is sufficient. I have six!) Pictured is just a small sampling of my mail to date:

Now, you and I already know that companies such as Target will monitor consumer purchases in order to decide when to start sending the baby circulars around. And, I knew once I completed gift registries I would be bombarded with stuff. But, there were those months between when I found out I was expecting and when I actually completed registries, months that were full of teeny weeny diapers, cord blood donation solicitations, baby bath samples, free Butt Paste and a host of other “necessities” for a newborn. Not that I mind—I’m sure we will use a free diaper or thirty, but the whole experience has a Big Brother-ish feel to it. I tried to figure out how giant, global corporations figured out that a Baby Spitzer is on the way.

I can’t think that my shopping habits tipped them off—unless, of course, the analysts are monitoring my ice cream consumption—as we shop as needed and at whatever store is convenient, which means four grocery stores, two big box stores, a few local vendors and the farm down the street. My prenatal vitamins are completely off the books (samples from the doctor), and I am hopeful that my hospital registration stayed private under HIPAA rules. I did not “like” or post anything on Facebook. Was it my Amazon search for a Pack ‘n Play? Did they somehow see the EPT purchase at Walgreen’s? I would love to figure out how the consumer universe was informed of my pregnancy before my own parents knew.

From the business perspective, I can’t blame a single company for wanting to capture the new parent market. After all, even if you try to resist the deluge of product that is available—and believe you me, there is STUFF—there are certain things that you simply have to buy along the way (maternity pants for mom, diapers for baby, Xanax for dad, etc.) In fact, although we are trying to be smart and avoid the billion-dollar “parental money warp,” the fact of the matter is we have a new human on the way that will require food, clothing and shelter or at least new bedroom furniture and adorably themed jungle merchandise… and a Sophie the Giraffe. Not to mention the special bath products, laundry detergent, food vessels, required safety and transportation implements… the baby list is endless. And, in my house, new baby also involved atypical spend, with my husband buying a new digital camera, a new car, 40 boxes of new flooring and several tandem truckloads of topsoil. (His reaction to the positive pregnancy test? “I need to go to Lowes!” True story.)

So, while we are primed to spend right now, I guess I will consider it good business sense that we are being sent so many samples, coupons, trials and magazines for this new phase of our life. (Interestingly, all of the magazines we get are 80% advertisements for the products that have already sent us samples and coupons.) Perhaps this is a blanket effort to engage the mommy bloggers and trendsetters; maybe it is just trying to establish some credibility and brand loyalty while I still have some functioning brain cells. Many of the top brands haven’t changed from when I was a child, so there is only a need for a reintroduction to the specifics of today’s products. Nowadays, though, consumers can trumpet the good and the bad of these products through word of mouth, now expanded beyond playgroups to the entire world, which makes getting the good messages out early and often of the utmost importance. Now, if I could only figure out (1) how they knew to get me at the right time and (2) if they have discovered I don’t do online reviews, heavy social networking or mailing list subscriptions… a little part of me is afraid that, if they see I am not a brand champion, the free diapers will come to an end!

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10 Responses to Mommy marketing: I have the power! And the stuff!

  1. mirish says:

    First off, congratulations!

    It is interesting that companies found you when you do not think you have purchased these “trigger items.” According to the readings regarding Target though, there were some pretty obscure items that seemed to reveal pregnancy. I wonder if you bought personal items for yourself that somehow fell under their pregnancy umbrella? I hope that the samples continue to pour in for you and that these marketing tactics make for a smoother transition into parenthood for you!

    • Meg Spitzer says:

      Thank you! 🙂

      I think all of my new “stuff” must be from either online search histories or a combination of credit card purchases–since I tend not to shop for the same things in the same stores all the time, I can’t think there would be any big flags. Further indication that this is a giant marketing list is the fact that, rather than retailers, it’s the companies that make the products themselves that are sending samples. I’m hoping once the free samples end, my friends with kids will kick in their too-small diapers and clothes!

  2. kopec says:

    Great post, really intriguing and fun to read!

    There certainly is a heavy dose of creepiness in the fact that you started getting this stuff before having told anyone, or made any baby related purchases. It’s really amazing what stores like Target pay attention to in order to get this information before anyone else does (even your parents). From what I understand, one of the biggest tell-tale purchases that gets the hounds released is when a women in a certain age range switches to unscented lotion; if that coincides with purchasing calcium or zinc (not even pre-natal vitamins, just regular old calcium) then they really start looking at you. If those purchases can be connected with purchases at a home improvement store, by someone at the same address, then they have you! Target claims to try and be sneaky and mix in coupons for lawnmowers or wine so that expectant mothers don’t feel spied on, but clearly you got the full on big brother treatment.

    • Meg Spitzer says:

      Thanks, Daniel. I agree that it must be a combination of factors in our case–which might make it even scarier than if just a single store zoned in on us! Makes me wonder why my 20-year-old sister has been getting Enfamil coupons since she was in middle school…

  3. Jessica Brown says:

    Hi Meg,

    I can see your dilemma….free samples with the tradeoff of a Big Brother invasion. My reaction would be similar to yours. I would love the complimentary samples and coupons; however, I would feel spied on and targeted on a really personal level. I would think, what else do they have on me?

    One source of the info might be the massive database company that has been in the news lately for putting big business over consumers, Acxiom Corporation. I wonder if they are somehow involved in sharing/selling your info to these companies? Singer (2012) reports that Acxiom servers process more than 50 trillion data “transactions” a year and contains information about 500 million active consumers worldwide, with about 1,500 data points per person.

    Another question comes to mind: are the digital marketing efforts just as focus and numerous as the direct mail, hard copy efforts? Are your banner ads affected? Do they advertise new motherhood or baby-type items?


    Singer, N. (2012). You for sale: mapping, and sharing, the consumer genome. Retrieved on July 30, 2012 from

    • Meg Spitzer says:

      Jessica, I think you might have uncovered the source of my daily diaper! As I said above, we don’t shop for everything at a single store all the time, so we would be hard to track by a single retailer… but a combination of all of our data together might be enough to send companies into a baby frenzy.

      And, to answer your question… YES. Digital marketing is 100% to mommy right now. Disney Baby, Fisher Price, Huggies, Pampers… you name it, I have banner ads for it. Actually, Disney “randomly” popped up first with some adorable Lion King crib bedding. Beware the Mouse!

  4. swall says:

    Congratulations! That is wonderful. I completely agree with you that it does seem like “Big Brother” is watching, and it is borderline scary how you always seem to receive promotional items at fliers at the moment when it seems like you need it the most! For me, I noticed the same issue when I was checking out at Target the other day. I received coupons with my receipt after checkout for dog treats and Pop Tarts, which are two items I purchase frequently, and this is particularly scary for me as I do not have any type of account with Target, they must have simply gotten my information from my debit card that I always use. I use my debit card each and everyday without thinking twice about it, but maybe I should take more note when making purchases as they are all very traceable, and others are taking note of my purchases.

  5. Gail says:

    I think you are getting the coupons and samples because your shopping habits may have changed (think about the ice cream :). According to the New York Times article outlining how Target identified the woman who was pregnant before she knew it, our shopping habits are pretty much ingrained and it’s pretty difficult to change them. However, at a few points in a person’s life everything is flux and old routines are suddenly up for grabs. The defining moment for marketers to get you to choose new brands or change current brands is with the birth of a child. In no time, you’ll be exhausted and overwhelmed and your brand loyalty will be given to anything that’s make your life easier or better. Best of luck to you!

  6. Jennifer Hanson Davies says:

    Hi Meg,

    Wow, this is crazy. But since you mention it, the same thing must have happened to me the second I was engaged. I thought all of the increased coupons, random magazines and all kinds of other crazy stuff were because we had just moved into a new house and the former owners had subscribed. But after reading this, I’m thinking these crazy marketers must have known. Or they knew I had just bought a new house and assumed that we were engaged? It’s entirely creepy to think they really have access to my credit card statements. But Google may be the answer…their search engine optimization options are literally becoming endless. Google not only tailors your searches but also remembers what you like and don’t like…which could explain things (Tummarello, 2012). Without realizing it, we are literally branding ourselves ( Tummarello, 2012). And you can bet that one of the first things I did after getting engaged was Google “got engaged, now what?” As Jessica mentioned above, who knows what goes on behind the online marketing scenes. And what information is made available to other companies. Definite food for thought.

    Tummarello, K. (2012). Mastering the mystery of SEO. Campaigns and Elections. retrieved from

  7. roufs says:

    Hi Megan,
    What a fun read, and what a way to get me thinking! Hmmmm, do they remember you by your Google searches? Some of the ways we are all tracked are the UPC codes in the stores and the Rewards cards we have. Also, if you use a debit card, all your transactions are recorded. This is a time of no privacy! Just like they used to sell mailing lists between companies, I’m sure they sell other lists about our preferences now. But admit it….getting all those things for the new baby must have helped make it more real! Especially at the beginning of your pregnancy. So happy for you! You’re going to be a great mom!