How a lovable dairy cow has captured the hearts of Bay Area consumers for 50 years

By Cheryl Sarfaty

Source: North Bay Business Journal

“There’s a very family-oriented, sweet-natured part of Clo that we try to put out there because it’s like she’s taking care of the other cows, the farmers and everybody who drinks their milk,” Vernon said.

It was the free-spirited ’60s when a bodacious bovine named Clo bolted from Clover Stornetta Farms and landed on a Rohnert Park billboard.

The stakes were high. She was on a mission to elevate the family dairy’s presence from good to great.

Mission accomplished.

Throughout the decades, Clo has been unstoppable, selling her products throughout California, as well as the Rocky Mountains and Southwest regions of the country. Her punny billboards stretch throughout the Bay Area and Sacramento, making for real road-stoppers. “Sip, Sip, Hooray,” “Mint To Be,” and “Under The Mistle Clo” are just the tip of the iceberg.

Now Clo is being lauded as she celebrates 50 memorable years as Clover Sonoma’s (rebranded in 2017) mascot. Leading the charge is third-generation president and CEO Marcus Benedetti, who actually wasn’t born when Clo made her debut in 1969.

Benedetti said he recalls being a toddler the first time he came face-to-face with her and reacting with “a mix of intrigue and fear.”

Fast-forward to his teenage years and Benedetti found himself in Clo’s shoes, uh, hooves.

“I do remember vividly walking in the heat of the Santa Rosa Rose Parade,” he said. “The greatest joy was making people happy. The biggest drawback was kids pulling your tail and kicking you. Clo can’t fight back, but you can lull the kids into shaking your hoof and then putting the squeeze on them.”

Clo’s festivities kick off April 6 with a two-month run at the Petaluma Historical Library and Museum: “Clo at the Mooseum: 50 Years Young.” The exhibit runs through June 9.

Clo also has been tapped as grand marshal for the 38th annual Petaluma Butter & Egg Days Parade and Celebration on April 27. Her public appearances and celebrations will last throughout the year, Benedetti said.

So what led to the breeding and branding of this beloved bovine anyway?

As told by Dan Benedetti, son of Clover Stornetta’s founder Gene Benedetti, and father of Marcus, the family was searching for a way to stand out in an industry that, frankly, lacked pizzazz.

“Milk was sold as cold and fresh, and that’s all,” Dan Benedetti said. “It was such an automatic commodity that the only way to differentiate ourselves was to be ‘fresher and colder.’”

So Gene Benedetti, along with his friend and advertising guru, Lee Levinger, brainstormed to come up with a mascot to help Clover Stornetta emerge from the pack in a fun and unforgettable way, Dan Benedetti said.

It took six months and a trial billboard in Rohnert Park to convince Clover Stornetta’s highly resistant board of directors that Clo was udderly worth it.

But Dan Benedetti said there was one cow-veat: “I remember Dad saying, ‘I do not want to sell a product directly with these billboards, ever. I want them to speak for themselves. We’ll sell milk separately; we’re not going to put sales on billboards.’”

After Levinger created Clo, his art director, Bill Neller, sketched the mascot, while ad man Jim Benefield made her a punster. Anne Vernon signed on in 1995 and eventually took the baton to become Clo’s illustrator and punmaster.

During her first half-century of life, Clo has found love with Bullie Boy, given birth and, somewhat predictably, succumbed to the pressures of fame by undergoing a couple of facelifts.

“When I first saw Clo before I worked on her, I didn’t actually like her face so much,” Vernon said. So Vernon embarked on the next iteration of the mascot by extracting a few teeth, giving her a nose job, softening her ears, and giving her eyelids to resolve her “pop-eyed” look. The thing is, she was so wonderful and campy, it was cool to work on her,” Vernon said, adding that the behind-the-scenes work is more of a production than people may realize. “There’s only one drawing where Clo’s on all four legs. She’s like a cross between Casper and the Pillsbury Doughboy.”

Rather than let her numerous makeovers threaten her confidence, Clo has remained happy and humble.

“There’s a very family-oriented, sweet-natured part of Clo that we try to put out there because it’s like she’s taking care of the other cows, the farmers and everybody who drinks their milk,” Vernon said. “I really see Clo as the standard bearer for the company, and her message to the public is really what Clover is all about.”

Kristel Corson, Clover Sonoma’s vice president of sales and marketing, said that during the company’s rebrand from Clover Stornetta to Clover Sonoma, the question arose as to whether or not to include Clo in the rebrand. The answer was yes.

“She connects so well into the community and is our ambassador with the communities that we serve,” Corson said. “A lot of people talk about driving through the county and seeing the billboards and a lot of trucks. She’s a moving ad.”

As Clo continues to enchant passersby with her billboards, it must also be noted she’s a master of time management, having carved out time to write three books — with a fourth set to hit the shelves in August, just in time for back to school.

“Pasture Bedtime,” illustrated through a poem by Vernon, will be the mascot’s first children’s book. The other books are “Wholly Cow: 1969-2000,” a retrospective of Clo’s first 31 years of billboards; “Wholly Cow 2: 40 years of Clo, the Cow,” and “LegenDairy Clover: 100 Years & Growing, 1916-2016.” Vernon wrote the latter two books; the first was authored by Gene Benedetti, Dan Benedetti and Jim Benefield.

For anyone getting misty-eyed about Clo’s advancing age, don’t. Marcus Benedetti noted that between Vernon’s never-ending ideas and hundreds more sent in by the public, the prognosis for the mascot is at least another 50 sprightly years.

There is, however, one final concern: Who will step into Clo’s hooves for her grand marshal duties at the upcoming Petaluma parade?

“I don’t plan on it being me,” Marcus Benedetti said. “I put my time in and then some.”