The cows came home last night. In commercials on the four major broadcast networks, a band of bovines broke into a house, trashed the place, climbed the stairs and tipped a poor fellow out of his bed.
And then the mastermind behind the stealth campaign that has mystified Marylanders for the last month was revealed: It's, as suspected, the Maryland Lottery.
What, you were expecting McDonald's?
The lottery's advertising agency, Eisner Communications of Baltimore, created the BovineUnite.com Web site, plastered the state with 42 billboards and sent street teams to bars and college campuses to spread the word.
But what do cows have to do with the lottery?
"This is a species that, if it's on a farm, works, sleeps and eats all day," said David Blum, an Eisner senior vice president. "There's not a whole lot of time for playing around."
The lottery's slogan is "Let Yourself Play," and so cows, lacking joy in their lives, seemed perfect for demonstrating the importance of having fun. Plus, the campaign could play off the knowledge people already have of cow-tipping.
So now the cows are tipping us. The campaign also launches a new scratch-off game called Bovine Bucks. The Bovine Unite Web site now directs visitors to LetYourselfPlay.com, and it will contain news spots and video on the cow uprising, including one featuring Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. that was shot yesterday afternoon.
Officials with Eisner and the lottery said they wanted to create some mystery with the ads to get people talking and to attract a younger audience. "We wanted to engage this younger audience and get them to seek out the message," said Eisner vice president Helen Goldring.
In just over a month, the site has received about 100,000 hits, with the average user clicking through 10 to 12 pages of the site. It's hard to say how many of those visitors were from Maryland and are in a position to buy lottery tickets. The campaign was discussed on blogs nationwide.
"It's one state using a medium that covers the entire world," said Steve Hall, a former ad executive who runs adrants.com. He said it's rare for a state-run agency to do something so creative. "Most lottery campaigns are fairly boring, fairly straightforward - it's all about the prize. These guys said it's just about having fun."
Everyone involved with the $1.8 million campaign had to sign nondisclosure agreements, and some didn't even tell their families. But Eisner's Will Davis, who registered BovineUnite.com in his own name, said he had to come clean to his wife.
"When people started calling the house and mooing," he said, "I had to tell her."