Tipping Sonoma’s Sacred Cow

She’s everywhere in Wine Country – if it weren’t for all the vineyards, one might think we lived in one vast dairy farm lorded over by a cartoon cow with a propensity for milk-themed puns.

The iconic Clo the Cow made her billboard debut in1969 and later began her award-winning reign of puns thanks to the creative minds at Benefield, Levinger, McEndy & Vernon, a Santa Rosa-based ad agency now known as VeVa Communications. Since its inception, the campaign has remained essentially the same – the great two-dimensional head of Clo the Cow grins vacantly toward the roadside, gussied in some order of cultural meme, humorously explicated by wordplay. A vivid illustration of the Clo concept and its relative malleability is the “Mooona Lisa” billboard that featured the cow as Da Vinci’s famed “Mona Lisa,” in the most successful parody of the painting since Duchamp painted a mustache on her. Later, following the popularity of Dan Brown’s the “Da Vinci Code” she appeared in Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” as “The Da Vinci Clo.”

Of course, not all of Clo’s guises have been hits. In 1993, the campaign had a legal confrontation with television aquanaut Jacques Cousteau for its “Jacques Cowsteau” billboard. (The case was dropped when the Frenchman determined the punning bovine was an homage rather than an affront). Likewise, not all of Clo’s iterations spring from the minds of VeVa Communications. 20 years ago, Clover Stonetta prevailed upon the public for pun-laden aphorisms befitting their beloved bovine in a popular billboard contest. Over 7,000 entries were submitted and many went on to become billboards, including that year’s winner “Tip Clo through your two lips.”

Now, Clover Stornetta is reprising the contest. As the press release reads:  “Clover Stornetta Farms is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the last Clover billboard contest. We want your billboard ideas!  If you get a kick out of Clo the Cow and her outrageous puns, now is your chance to see your own ideas come to life on one of our novel billboards.”

Oh, man, that’s just asking for it – the $5,000 first prize notwithstanding and inclusion in “Wholly Cow II,” the second published anthology of the campaign.

Near the time of the original contest, my gang and I were publishing a satire tabloid entitled SCAM Magazine and being snarky young men with rather juvenile senses of humor, we thought we would go Clo the Cow-tipping and publish our own interpretation of the campaign.

Our minds newly-infected by a junior college critical theory class, we decided we couldn’t abide by the Orwellian ubiquity of Clover Stornetta’s marketing throughout “Sonoma Cownty.” Mind you, this is back in those precious years when young men are prone to calling any kind of perceived authority (parents, teachers, cartoon cows) as “fascist.” To wit, our grand idea was to depict Clo the Cow as a dictator. The resultant effort included depictions of “Fidel Cowstro,” “Cao Tse-Tung,” “Clo-Chi Minh” and, my favorite, “Moossolini.”

Now, mind you, I have no grudge against Clover Stornetta Farms, the three-generation family-owned and operated dairy located in my native home of Petaluma, but I’ll admit to chewing the cud of satire whenever it seems warranted. Now it’s your turn. Clover Stornetta is receiving billboard ideas through October 31. To submit, go to www.cloverstornetta.com, and click on the “Online Contest” tab. Contestants can also visit Clover Stornetta’s Facebook page (of course!) at www.facebook.com/cloverstornetta.com and follow the link. And if your dairy drollery isn’t cheesy enough, take my advice, don’t cry over spilt milk.

Enjoy my work? Buy me a coffee!