Gene’s Vision: The Making of Clo the Cow

Through the years, Clover’s lovable mascot, Clo the Cow, has become well-known for her punny billboards that helped cement the company’s identity in its Northern California birthplace.

Her journey from idea to icon can be traced back to the 1960s, when Lee Levinger, founder of Sonoma County’s first ad agency, approached Clover founder Gene Benedetti with an idea for a billboard campaign centered around a cartoon cow.

Levinger pitched an initially skeptical Benedetti on the concept of creating a series of unique billboards with witty taglines. “People are going to anticipate them, and they’re going to enjoy them,” Levinger told him, “It (the campaign) will be about happiness and the good things about Clover.” He also proposed the billboards would be anchored by a caricature of a cow. Benedetti was intrigued.

Three weeks later, at one of their infamous three martini lunches, Levinger presented Benedetti with a hand-drawn sketch of the first Clo, shown in a pasture setting, bearing the catchphrase, “Outstanding in her Field.” Gene liked the idea, but knew he would ultimately need to get the approval of Clover’s Board of Directors.

It was far from an easy sell. Most of the board members thought it was nonsense to have a cartoon for a company mascot. “They wanted a real cow,” Gene later told an interviewer, but he remained undaunted.

“I appreciate your feelings,” he told the Board, “but we think this is something that will really generate interest.” Eventually, Gene’s gut feeling about Clo persuaded his colleagues and won over the opposition.

The first sketch of the toothy bovine, rendered in sixties-style line drawing by Levinger’s art director, Bill Nellor, had some people scratching their heads. A year and several iterations later, Nellor presented Gene with the grinning Clo we’ve since grown to love. Still, there was uncertainty as to how she would be received by the public.

“Hell, she doesn’t even look like a cow!” Dan Benedetti remembers his father commenting on the artist’s rendition. “Look at those big teeth on the top and bottom. I don’t think the Board of Directors will accept this mascot for the company.” Knowing he would likely meet with resistance, Gene went back to the board with a compromise.

“Let’s do one billboard for six months and see what kind of reaction we get from the public,” he reasoned. “If there’s a positive reaction, we will have the answer to our question.”

The rest is history. Clo’s debut on Clover billboards around the North Bay launched one of the most wildly successful ad campaigns in history, and sealed her fate as the company’s endearing “moo-lebrity” with fans of all ages. Her witty, one-line puns and affable smile are still synonymous with Clover Country to this day.