• Greener Pastures for Chick-fil-A Cows?


    Insider has chronicled both the history and agency change that has impacted the Chick-fil-a cows.  Now Ken Klein, EVP of OAAA brings us up to date on everyone’s favorite mis-spellers.

    Barry Kern of Kern Studios in New Orleans – builder of Mardi Gras floats, statues, and plenty of Chick-fil-A cows – was a bit worried.

    In the summer of 2016, Kern learned that Chick-fil-A changed ad agencies after 22 years with The Richards Group in Dallas, creator of the iconic “Eat Mor Chikin” campaign launched on 3-D billboards in 1995.

    “I called Sean,” recalls Kern, referring to Sean Reilly, CEO of billboard company Lamar Advertising Company in Baton Rouge.  “Sean, what am I gonna do with all these cows?’

    “Sean said to hold onto ‘em.”

    Chick-fil-A cows in storage at Kern Studios, New Orleans

    In the summer of 2016, headlines with out-to-pasture metaphors suggested that the cows were passé:

    But the cows are not gone.  They’re multi-media, experimenting with virtual reality, and about to become bilingual.

    “You’ll still see our cows up to their usual shenanigans on billboards,” said Suzi Yebio, Chick-fil-A’s senior manager of advertising.  “Chick-fil-A’s cow placement on billboards initially put our ‘Eat Mor Chikin’ campaign on the map, so they will continue to be a presence in that medium” and other platforms.

    When the Atlanta Braves moved 14 miles from Turner Field to the new Sun-Trust Park, the giant Chick-fil-A cow in the outfield moved, too, to the right-center field walkway.

    In New Orleans, Kern Studios trimmed 18,000 pounds from the 40-foot cow, sending it back to Atlanta in the spring of 2017 on a truck with the hashtag #cowonthemove.

    Chick-fil-A cow en route to new Braves Stadium

    For the first time, Chick-fil-A bought national air time during the Grammys in February.  Thirty-second TV spots, produced by McCann New York, showed cows with virtual reality goggles.  The company gave away thousands of Chick-fil-A branded cardboard VR viewers.

    “Don’t be surprised,” teases the Atlanta-based company, “if you see the cows even learning to speak Spanish.”

    Early days

    More than two decades ago – facing better-known competitors with bigger ad budgets, Chick-fil-A sought to break through via billboards.

    Early attempts were inspired in part by Bart Simpson’s motto “Don’t Have a Cow.”  A separate ad design featured a ladder on an almost finished Chick-fil-A billboard with the inscription:  “Boss. Got Hungry, Back Soon.”

    Merging these concepts, in 1995, Chick-fil-A put 3-D cows on billboard catwalks with a misspelled plea of self-preservation: “Eat Mor Chikin.”

    “Fans of the chicken chain fell in love from the moment they saw that first cow duo painting its first sign,” said Ad Week. “No other fast-food chain had created anything remotely similar.”

    In the competitive restaurant industry, Chick-fil-A scores high in employee politeness and per-store revenue (its restaurants are open six days a week).  Congressman David Scott, D-GA, whose district includes its headquarters, refers to Chick-fil-A as a blue-chip company.

    Hall of Fame

    The cows’ message spread to other outdoor-ad formats such as wall signs, water towers, and foul poles at the Houston Astros’ stadium.

    The award-winning campaign was inducted into the outdoor advertising hall of fame in 2006 and added to the Madison Avenue Advertising Walk of Fame the following year.

    This year, Chick-fil-A’s “Cow Appreciation Day” is July 11, when customers dressed like cows get a free meal.

    Like Barry Kern in New Orleans, many worried about the cows’ fate, prompting Chick-fil-A to post this statement on its website under “frequently asked questions:”

    Q. Why is Chick-fil-A still doing Cow Appreciation Day if they parted ways with the cows’ ad agency?  I heard the cows might go away. Is this true?

    A. The cows aren’t going anywhere and will remain an essential part of our brand and advertising.  

    About the Author

    Ken Klein is executive vice president of the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, OAAA.  Photos and videos provided by the author, Kern Studios, Chick-fil-A, and OAAA.)



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