Date of Award

Fall 12-18-2019

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Program of Study

Communication - Corporate Communication

Language

English

First Advisor

Caryn Medved

Second Advisor

Minna Logemann

Abstract

The purpose of this research is to examine how American dairy companies employ language and imagery in brand communications (marketing, advertising, and public relations) to persuade consumers regarding farm animal welfare (FAW) conditions on supplier farms, and to examine how consumers respond in instances in which conditions on supplier farms are shown to be counter to what is depicted in brand communications. In other words, it examines how the dairy industry communicates its FAW-related values and promises to consumers and investigates consumer tolerance for being misled regarding FAW conditions. This project is thus intended as an exploration of the intersection of ethical brand communications, corporate transparency, corporate reputation and consumer trust within the context of the American dairy industry. The findings suggest that American milk companies generally aim to persuade consumers about positive FAW conditions on supplier farms by either directly stating or implying through brand communications that cows and calves on supplier farms are happy, well-loved, and have agency and access to the outdoors; that supplier farms are generally small and family-run and therefore the opposite of factory farms; that the quality and taste of their milk is a direct reflection of positive FAW and that consumers can therefore “taste it” for themselves; and that the brand and its farmers are trustworthy, transparent and high-integrity. The findings also show that when conditions on supplier farms are shown to be counter to those which a brand has indicated in its communications, consumers generally feel disgust towards the brand and are inclined to distrust its future statements, boycott its products, and switch to a brand they believe to be more trustworthy. They may even feel distrust towards the dairy industry as a whole and may consider switching to plant-based options. Finally, they may feel they have been deliberately misled by brand communications and they seem to generally demand accountability from the brand; in particular, they want to see someone from the company be punished for the abuse—be it in a corporate or criminal justice setting—and they desire assurance through independent supplier audits that the abuse events will not be repeated.

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