Column Date 2006-01-22

Bovine Billboards

Spring is here, and the silly season has arrived in full force.

An online gambling site has just contracted to use a herd of cows that graze alongside I-75 in Sarasota, Florida for their advertising.

Your read it right: ads for the online casino will be painted on the sides of 100 cows grazing in a pasture next to a major interstate highway. And, since you never know which side of any cow will be facing the passing cars, the casino’s ads will be painted on both sides of every cow. Non-toxic paint will be used, of course, so the cows will not be harmed, and when the paint eventually wears off, the ad contract is finished.

For this advertising breakthrough, the casino has agreed to pay the dairy farmer $35,000, or $350 per cow.

Now, before you jump to the wrong conclusion, I urge you to look at it from the cow’s point of view.

If I were a cow, I personally think this sounds like nice, easy, well-paid work: I just keep on doing what I like doing (grazing, chewing my cud, sleeping, etc.) while I make a pretty penny for my dairy farmer.

And, come the think of it, don’t we human beings do the same thing?

We proudly walk around wearing shirts and jackets with the ads and logos of major corporations on them (like Nike, Polo, John Deere, Tommy Hilfiger, L.L. Bean, Titleist, etc.) – but we’re not as smart as the cows. We’re walking billboards for these companies, and we don’t get paid a penny!

These bovine billboards open up a whole new world of advertising potential for other companies looking to find new, imaginative ways to advertise.

What about dogs, for instance, and the millions of American dog owners who walk their dogs two or three times every day?

Since most dogs are friendly, and love to approach people with their tails wagging, this is just the ‘intrusive’ kind of advertising that companies love. I mean, dogs don’t just stand around like cows, waiting for you to notice them – dogs are in your face all the time, and advertisers would have to pay a premium for their services.

I’ve also read that zoos across the country are in a financial bind these days, and always searching for new ways to raise money.

Well, the answer is obvious: elephants are the super-premium, gargantuan ad vehicles for Hummers and Ford Excursions; giraffes are the perfect medium to help your product stand out in a crowd; and American eagles will give your product that patriotic link that sells so well in these perilous times.

Of course, for political ads I think snakes or members of the weasel family would be appropriate.

Granted that our children may never again see an animal in his or her natural state, not wearing an ad or billboard. But, hey, isn’t that what National Geographic and Animal Planet are for?

I remember, a few years ago, when Coca-Cola wanted to hire a space rocket company to put a giant Coke sign into permanent orbit over the USA, where it would shine down upon millions of consumers every evening, lit by the setting sun.

Public indignation stopped that idea cold.

But if we’re now using cows in pastures as billboards, maybe a Coca-Cola ad in the sunset is an idea whose time has come.

©2005 Peter Tannen