After the tragic death of a young adult from alcohol abuse, the Longview Anti-Drug Coalition knew that substance abuse prevention efforts needed to be increased. With the idea to target teens’ alcohol use, creativity took hold and the Cow Campaign was born in 2009.
“We got together with our coalition at a retreat and decided to create some type of campaign,” said Dawn Maloney, program coordinator at the Longview Anti-Drug Coalition. “We came up with cows because we are in Cowlitz County!”
The campaign started by giving out T-shirts to high school students in the community that simply and ambiguously said, “The Cows are Coming.” To involve more of the community, the coalition held a contest for all the schools in the grant area for a slogan and artistic design for the cow. The winning slogan: “Kidz U Booze, U Lose.” Next, the coalition decorated full size cut-out cows from a local high school with a few of the designs.
In Longview, Wa., located at the base of Mt. Saint Helens, the population is approximately 36,848 people. The city is primarily a blue-collar work town and unique as the only planned city of its magnitude conceived and built entirely with private funds. In the past twenty years, mills – one of the largest employers in the city – have closed, leaving the community searching for more stable jobs.
The cow campaign served as a means to involve the entire Longview community in the prevention campaign. The cows were placed around the city and clues were distributed. The community contest tracked where the different cows were located and which cow was where. The unique idea was picked up by the Portland TV station and went viral. The cows were subsequently “adopted” by local businesses for a small fee, raising money for the coalition. Organizations like Goodwill and the Family Health Center adopted the cows and decorated them, incorporating the “Kidz U Booze, U Lose” slogan.
After the initial hype of the campaign, the cows were collected and transported to local areas, like the community gardens, high schools and the fair. Now, when an issue needs to be addressed, the cows reappear, a recognized commodity to bring awareness to an important issue, such as marijuana legalization or a “what if…” kindness campaign.
“We’ve brought awareness to issues in a way that is not threatening or judging,” said Maloney. “But we are still getting our point across.”
The media campaign started “very reasonably priced,” and expanded to involve local businesses, students, and adults across the community. Now, the campaign can shift to encompass new issues and ideas while maintaining the same “cow” structure and messaging system.
“It doesn’t take much to do a social norms campaign,” said Maloney. “Just be creative and think outside the box, know your community and what is unique about it.”