It was a sunny day – the kind of day that springs forth from the drudgery of winter to blind you with its brilliant sunshine and pleasant breezes, imprinting itself onto your memory. The air was filled with the smells of cherry and tulip blossoms and the slight overtone of a diesel-fueled truck, while the thumping of nearby construction pounded out the rhythm of a downtown rave party, minus the fancy lights, drugs and half-naked dancing people thrumming against your leg.
I had decided to leave the lab early. The spring day called out to me, “Jackie! Leave the window-less torture of a lab you’re sitting in! Drop the data analysis and run and frolic in my splendor!” Not being one to ignore calls of nature in the off chance that I might end up with wet pants, I grabbed my things and snuck out. My sandaled feet skipped along the sidewalk, my toes happy to be wriggling in the air of spring and reveling in the vitamin D of the sun. As I waited to cross the street outside of the University of Maryland Medical Center, I felt someone sneak up behind me.
Shocked and unsure of what was going on, I made a confused face and rejoiced as the signal changed to the white “walk” man of goodness. I hustled across the street, hoping to get away from the weird guy who seemed to be getting a kick out of calling me a cow. I was insulted – I’m not nearly that fat.
“Oh, geez,” I thought. “The persistent bugger is following me!” I turned around to get a glimpse of Mr. McMooalot so I knew whom to avoid as I strode home. To my surprise, my pursuer wasn’t a man, but a cow, complete with jiggly, pink udder and dinging, ringing cowbell.
“MOOOOO,” he said again, louder this time, with a little more force.
I gave him the “Excuse me?!” raised eyebrow look and asked, “Can I help you?” while looking him up and down.
He scratched his udder, looking at me as if he didn’t know quite what to say. “Moo?” Looking over my shoulder, he nodded. I turned around to find myself trapped betwixt two swinging udders. The second cow checked me out and mooed at me suggestively. I attempted to get away, but they followed me, laughing and mooing and attempting cow-like pick-up lines, like “Moo moo moo moo? Moo moo moo mooooo” and “Moo moo mooooooo moo moo moo.” Down a full block they shook their udders and jangled their cowbells, mooing dirty things I simply cannot repeat here. I was beginning to fear that they might follow me home, or call in their herd friends to haul me off to Udderville and have their hoofed way with me. The pedestrian walk sign at the next corner was working against me. I would have to stand there, surrounded by cows just hoofing to rub and fondle my udders. What was happening?! Was I in the middle of a cattle re-make of Hitchcock’s The Birds? Would I soon be farm fodder, wallowing in the middle of a cow patty, forced to eat and drink unpasturized dairy products?
The light changed and I began to cross the street. Before I got far, I was pulled back and given a business card with the URL, BovineUnite.com. The Bovine Unite website, as previously reported contained links to a cow blog, a cow forum, as well as cow games and the suggestion that the bovine revolution was occurring on May 5, 2005 and would be shown on network TV.
Sometime around 9pm on Thursday night in Maryland, NBC showed a commercial depicting a cow duo breaking into Jim Peterman’s home and “human tipping” him out of his bed. As the daring duo rushed away from the scene in their livestock trailer truck, a cowbell was displayed on screen, highlighting to “Let Yourself Play” the Maryland Lottery. Visiting the lottery website leads you to an elaborate story (complete with dancing cow graphics) about UdderGate, the cow revolution I had been witness to. Videos abound on the site, allowing you to watch how UdderGate was created, the commercial spots currently showing on TV, and some hilarious “news” footage about UdderGate, and human tipping, describing the pranksters as “black, white and medium rare.”
So the elaborate scheme of cows, revolutions, and suggestive mooing was a viral marketing campaign for the Maryland Lottery. Cows? Lottery? The connection may be slightly hard to understand, but the creativity of the campaign has to be acknowledged. Though not at all related to an ARG in any fashion, BovineUnite took Maryland residents by suprise, leaving people wondering why on earth cows were jumping out of vans, handing out cowbells, squishy cows, and business cards, all culminating in a creative and well-executed marketing campaign for a normally benign institution. I have no idea if this will lead me to purchase more scratch-off lotto tickets, but I will say this: I gotta have more cowbell.