Fearless Cow? The Best Ad of 2017 Started Out Quite Differently

An early concept had a bovine theme

The statue has proven to be a popular tourist attraction.
Sculpture: Kristen Visbal - Photo: Federica Valabrega

The big question regarding “Fearless Girl” at this month’s Cannes Lions festival is not whether it will win any top awards but how many. The work has become so famous that even its detractors and their papier-mâché pugs have earned 15 minutes in the spotlight.

But one early idea for the sculpture would have been better suited to chewing cud and emitting methane than staring down the patriarchy.

According to documents recently uncovered by way of a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request, State Street Global Advisors and its agency, McCann New York, originally pitched the idea of a bronze cow to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Office of Citywide Event Coordination and Management.

“A financial services company … that has Mutual Funds is developing and looking to launch a fund that will be exclusively comprised of women-owned or women run companies,” wrote Stuart Weissman, CEO of experiential marketing firm SWPnyc, in the initial email under a “proposal for a new event” heading.

SWPnyc, which often works on official city events, served as the “hired intermediary” for McCann and State Street.

“As a precursor to the announcement, they are looking to set up a statue of a cow to be set opposite the iconic Wall St bull at Bowling Green,” Weissman continued. “The event is more like an installation. The concept is to place the cow and to use it, as a buzz-building exercise. On the last Friday of the event, they would put brand ambassadors around the cow to answer questions following the launch at the NYSE.”

Thankfully, the client quickly realized a cow might not have been the best way to publicize its gender-equality efforts.

“Over a year ago State Street asked McCann to develop new ways to communicate the importance of having more women in company leadership,” a McCann spokesperson told Adweek in a statement today. “The agency created independently and presented a number of creative ideas that included a statue of a cow that were rejected outright by the client as part of our creative process and the concept was dropped. With any creative concept, we routinely explore execution plans that include the feasibility of permitting, installation and production in advance of bringing ideas to a client.”

The statement continued, “In the fall of 2016, State Street initiated further discussions which ultimately, through the creative process, led to Fearless Girl. State Street has only ever authorized McCann for one city permit and that was for Fearless Girl.”

The FOIL request itself came from a law firm representing Arthur Piccolo, chairman of the Bowling Green Association and co-founder of the Lower Manhattan Historical Society. Piccolo described Arturo Di Modica’s “Charging Bull” as “the single most famous animal sculpture in the world, in history” for a 2012 New York Magazine profile regarding his “very intimate relationship with the bull” (his words). Piccolo seems to dislike “Fearless Girl” almost as much as Di Modica and “Sketchy Dog” artist Alex Gardega do.

He sent the documents in question to various news outlets today in order to question the legality of De Blasio’s decision to approve the installation.

Will all this outrage lead to a shorter lifespan for “Fearless Girl”? That’s not yet clear. But it has certainly brought even more attention to the work. And now it has allowed everyone to imagine the cow that (very thankfully) wasn’t to be.