Are Pictures of Babies Deceptive Advertising?

Dawn Davenport


Are Pictures of Babies Deceptive Advertising?

Are Pictures of Babies Deceptive Advertising?

I just got around to reading a report that was published in December criticizing the online advertisement of infertility clinics. (Selling Art: An Empirical Assessment of Advertising on Fertility Clinics’ Websites)  The report found that nearly 80% of infertility clinics’ websites had photos of babies on their homepage; 30% used the word “dream”; and almost 9% used the word “miracle”. I haven’t seen a study on adoption agencies, but I’m betting the percentage with baby or kid pictures is close to 100%, with a liberal sprinkling of “dream” for good measure. So I ask you: Is there anything wrong with this?

The author of the infertility report argues that the pictures paint too rosy a picture and are misleading as to the chances of success. “Showing photos of babies and using such words [as “dream” and “miracle”] may suggest to some patients that success is a likely outcome” and ” may push patients to disregard the high costs of fertility treatment (the average cost of a single cycle of in vitro fertilization is $12,400) and create false hope.”  No doubt this same criticism could be leveled against adoption agencies.

What do you think? I’m neither shocked nor dismayed by the use of baby pictures in ads for adoption agencies and infertility clinics. I guess I give the average consumer more credit. Sure, the baby pictures are enticing and “dream” is certainly reflective of how most people approach infertility or adoption, but I don’t think either would induce people to blindly jump into infertility treatment or adoption without thoughtful consideration and research. With just a little research, people could easily get a realistic picture of what they are getting into.

Of course, maybe I’m just being defensive. The Creating a Family website has the absolutely most adorable pictures of kids from our online community in a banner running across the top of each page. We aren’t selling anything so it’s not an advertisement. We are simply trying to provide unbiased accurate education and support, but still some might object. But hey, at least we include all ages of kids, including a picture of a teen with blue hair, tattoos, and piercings.  The director of an adoption agency remarked that he hated that picture since it was enough to scare anyone away from parenting. I should have told him in was all in the pursuit of honesty in “advertising”.


(The story behind the picture: That beautiful boy is one of my own and I spent all afternoon helping him create his look for Halloween. The hair is courtesy of blue Kool-Aid, the tattoos courtesy of a Sharpie, and the earrings courtesy of Super Glue.)

So, what do you think? Are the pictures and idealistic words too persuasive and obscuring of the truth?

Image credit: gobucks2

12/02/2013 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog, Infertility, Infertility Blog | 29 Comments

29 Responses to Are Pictures of Babies Deceptive Advertising?

  1. Avatar Deirdre Morris says:

    It is so powerful to surround ourselves with images of what we want especially if we can combine those images with thoughts like ‘I will be holding my baby soon’.

    So even if it is a marketing strategy, it can still be considered a powerful support for a woman/couple during the creative process and cute babies make us all smile!

  2. Whole Child Whole Child says:

    Except if an adoption agency who places only babies has pictures of a bunch of older children it will be kind of misleading…it is very hard to find private agencies domestically that place older children…there would have to be an explanation along with the photos.

  3. Cindy Modrosic Cindy Modrosic says:

    they did celebrate with me dawn. i think my RE truly felt bad how things turned out for me. his own daughter went through a lot to become a mom too. i did find it interesting, however, how their mindset was set in the same era as 1950s adoptions. they were slightly freaked out that we knew our son’s birthparents and that we were OK with him having a different blood type than us. 🙂 as for pictures of older children, i think it is fine. my babies grew up to incredibly good looking kiddos too. 🙂

  4. Cindy Modrosic Cindy Modrosic says:

    my infertility dr posted a picture of my son on his baby board. i was one of my dr’s most epic failures. i had one of the thickest files there. the birth announcement for our adopted son was right there with the rest of his “success” stories. and as for adoption agencies posting blond haired, blue eyed babies, i agree. but my agency uses the s/w’s own son for their a-family brochures, an INCREDIBLY handsome baby boy for bmom brochures, and a transracial family for their website.

  5. Robyn Chittister Robyn Chittister says:

    I don’t think adoption agencies should be included in this blog post. I think infertility clinics have very different results. Not everyone who goes to an infertility clinic will have a child. Assuming their expectations are reasonable and they don’t give up, everyone who goes to an adoption agency (attorney, etc.) will have a child. I don’t like that almost all adoption agency web sites have blue-eyed white babies as their “spokesbabies”, but that’s another issue entirely. (*cough* racism *cough*)

  6. Carolyn Hawkinson-Pruett Osci Artist Carolyn Hawkinson-Pruett Osci Artist says:

    Hey, weight loss commercials have a discliamer of “results not typical”…

  7. Jen Tang Jen Tang says:

    As opposed to a photo of a husband giving his wife an injection into her butt? Or a woman getting her every 3 day tranvaginal ultrasound? Come on, we need some motivation to sign up!

  8. Whole Child Whole Child says:

    Honestly, I have no problem with fertility clinics and adoption agencies advertising with pictures of cute kids…I have more of a problem with the photos of the foster children and using them to try to get more foster families…It is almost as hard to become a foster parent as it is to get pregnant using fertility treatments (they turn away about 30% of people who apply), and advertising with pictures of specific children that you are not allowed to adopt (but you know are available and needing good homes) is kind of cruel. You also have to wonder how the kids are going to feel one day as adults knowing their sad history was posted on the internet for the world to see.

  9. Mani Sheriar Mani Sheriar says:

    What else would they show pictures of? Grieving childless couples??

    Should gyms websites show photos of overweight out of shape people? Should oncologist websites show graves? Should therapist websites show angry divorced couples?

    Service providers always advertise the goal of what we hope to gain from their services, even if they know not all people will realize that goal. I think most people understand the possibility of failure too.

  10. Carolyn Hawkinson-Pruett Osci Artist Carolyn Hawkinson-Pruett Osci Artist says:

    I would expect it for IF clinics…. but what gets me is the miles and miles of bulletin boards of success stories in pics on the walls. That brings it even closer to home, b/c those are locals, perhaps even ppl the px knows. I think I pissed the nurse at my clinic off when I said, “what happens to the 45% who don’t have success? I don’t see any pics of their broken dreams and empty arms…..”

  11. Cindy Modrosic Cindy Modrosic says:

    i agree with you 100%. part of the reason i paid twice as much for an adoption was because it WAS going to work, where medicine couldn’t guarantee me that.

  12. Cindy Modrosic Cindy Modrosic says:

    i agree with you. why go through the nightmare of fertility treatments if it’s not to try for an adorable baby? and as for adoption clinics, they actually got me 2 of those, where the dr got me nada.

  13. Hi, Dawn:

    Thanks for bringing up that report, which I saw published a few months ago.

    As an infertility marketing specialist, I advocate patient-centric marketing to infertility clinic clients. I always have felt torn about whether clinics (can’t speak for adoption agencies) should use photos of babies. Research done by the pharmaceutical industry well over a decade ago showed that half of the patients surveyed felt photos of babies were helpful and inspiring while the other half did not. I doubt if that breakdown has changed much in the ensuing years. My advice for clinics is to know and survey their patients. Infertility patients are not a monolithic group. Is there a way you can convey hope without showing photos of babies? I don’t feeling showing photos of babies is deceptive and for many patients it is very appropriate, but it may demonstrate an insensitivity, especially for clinics who are treating patients who have been through the ringer of treatment. It is also important to note that IVF success rates are continually improving, but not for the patient who has been through multiple cycles without success. Here is a blog I wrote about this subject. It is a few years old, but hopefully still relevant. :

  14. Avatar anon AP says:

    I just remember finding it amusing that the brochure was chock full of pictures of cute babies and happy families but the welcome/introductory letter had an admonishment to not bring any children to appointments in order to be respectful of the feelings of the other hopeful individuals and couples in the waiting room who were struggling to conceive.

  15. Avatar Keiko says:

    Dawn – fantastic and thoughtful post. My biggest issue w/images of children/babies has been a sensitivity thing. For me personally, I’ve always found them painful to look at while going through infertility. I was also a baby-avoider as well – holding or being near babies made me nervous and/or an emotional wreck afterward, so maybe it’s just me. But b/c of my own sensitivity, I try to keep baby imagery off my website as much as possible – that’s just my personal take.

    I don’t know if I’d call it “deceptive” advertising… but you raise some great points. Will definitely be sharing this post with others!

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Keiko, you’re definitely not alone. It is something we debated at Creating a Family too before we decided to share photos from our community. I thought the comment by anonAP was particularly insightful about the use of pictures on the walls of IF clinics of adorable babies, but the prohibition of bringing children to appointments.

  16. Avatar TAO says:

    Dawn – positive only advertising is deceptive. Puffery isn’t because it is so over the top no one will believe it. I hear you guys talk so often about the heartache but when all you are hearing and seeing is the positive – does that also make it worse on those who aren’t getting the results?

    I had a very negative reaction to this tweet by the NCFA that said “help us show the positive of adoption by sharing your adoption story with us!” because it does the same – “adoption” cannot be all positive or all negative – it is both. To only show the positive dismisses the children that are rehomed through email lists, or abused, or sent to RTC’s, or turned over to the state, or murdered – so when is the NCFA going to share that side of adoption? And that is just the adoptee side and isn’t even including the painful stories from adoptive parents…

    Now take the above paragraph farther and see how that positive only advertising does to the adoptee who feels deeply affected by being adopted. When only the positive is promoted then she/he is going to be dismissed and told to get over it, deal with it.

    There must be balance in advertising or on the same page a visible disclaimer to be considered fair advertising.

  17. Jen, if the agencies places all aged kids then I think pictures of all aged kids would be appropriate. Personally, I also like the idea of including pics of adoptive families of all ages. I think it encourages pre-adoptive parents to think past the footy pajama stage. This is especially helpful with transracial adoption.

  18. Avatar Jen M says:

    To clarify – I’m not the Jen Tang who posted earlier – sorry!

  19. Avatar Jen says:

    This is really interesting – I am an adoption worker and I was just talking with my supervisor yesterday about updating the pictures that we have on our display board at informational meetings. I wanted to include families and children of all ages, she was more focused on babies for our infant adoption program. For those of you who have adopted domestically, do you think seeing pics of children beyond infancy would have turned you away? Just wondering…

  20. Avatar Justin says:

    I agree with all that was said in the prior comments – advertistements should display success stories and should inspire people to seek the service, but…
    Hearing from your doctor that your fifth IVF was a dismal failure, that you’ve just spent your life savings on the process, and that there’s a very slim chance of ever succeeding, and then leaving through the waiting area and being confronted with a wall full of pictures of very cute babies – that felt like a very cruel joke. I remembered going to that clinic for the first time, looking at the wall, and smilingly thinking that we will have a baby just like that one. Leaving the clinic after fifth IVF, I really wanted to shout at the receptionist to hang some pictures of crying adults, empty cribs and empty pension plans, just because they would fit reality (at least my reality).
    Perhaps the answer should be the inclusion of warning, just like in pharmaceutical ads that have to include the warning of side effects. Something like “Babies are cute, and many couples are very happy with their fertility results. However, results are not guaranteed, and for many couples may be extremely slim. Consult your doctor whether this fertility treatment is right for you”.

  21. I think including adoption agencies is valid, if only because you can get turned away at the door from an adoption agency for reasons you may not see coming (divorced & remarried but not for long enough, cancer or other serious medical conditions history, too old, too young, not being a member of a particular religion, etc) and there are circumstances which can prevent an agency from helping you to successfully fulfill your adoption dream (i.e. running out of money after a series of failed domestic adoption attempts). That being said, though, I’d rather they advertise w/ pictures of cute child models (or already adopted kids with permission of parents). We all need to see the hope. We already know what the alternative looks like.

  22. Cindy, I’m so glad your infertility clinic posted your adoption announcement along with their other success stories. Ultimately you were successful at becoming a mom and well they should celebrate that.

  23. Jen, [As opposed to a photo of a husband giving his wife an injection into her butt? Or a woman getting her every 3 day tranvaginal ultrasound? Come on, we need some motivation to sign up!] For some reason, the thought of these pictures being used in an advertisement made me giggle. How about a picture of a woman on a hormonal rampage?

  24. Mani , [Should gyms websites show photos of overweight out of shape people? Should oncologist websites show graves? Should therapist websites show angry divorced couples?] So true!

  25. Avatar Mani Sheriar says:

    What else would they show pictures of? Grieving childless couples??

    Should gyms websites show photos of overweight out of shape people? Should oncologist websites show graves? Should therapist websites show angry divorced couples?

    Service providers always advertise the goal of what we hope to gain from their services, even if they know not all people will realize that goal. I think most people realize the possibility of failure too.

  26. Well, that’s my thinking, but then I wonder if there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed when it comes to advertising using peoples hopes and dreams as bait. Not sure, but it doesn’t seem to me that cute pictures cross the line. The use of the word “miracle” kind of seem hokey to me, but not deceptive.

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