Food packages must communicate mandatory information, but they can also be used for marketing practices such as promotion and are a communication pathway from industry to consumer. Considering that cows are the main beings affected by the dairy industry, it is essential to scrutinise what dairy product packages convey about them. The aims of this study are to analyse the occurrence of reference to cows on the packaging of dairy products in popular supermarket retail stores in Brazil and the United Kingdom and to discuss ethical implications of promotional practices of dairy producers. We found that in both countries most packaging does not refer to cows at all. In the UK, an average of 31% of the packaging used some visual reference to cows, and in Brazil an average of 15% of packaging used some visual reference to cows. We identified four modalities of cow signifiers with a strong common appeal to nature that reflect and reaffirm an idyllic narrative of milk production. Our findings reflect the concept of absent referent, coined by Carol Adams, both on the packages containing some type of cow representation and on the packages not containing any. Considering that it might influence the consumer’s understanding and attitude towards cows, we highlight that the lack of adequate information about cows’ conditions and the obscuring of problematic issues in cows’ exploitation through the globalization of the happy cow narrative are two important issues to be placed on the Marketing Ethics concerns.
- dairy industry
- happy cow
- consumer awareness
- Centre for Human Animal Studies