Commercial Advertising in Chicago, Pt 2: Thank Your Cows, Don’t Blame Them [OPINION]

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to ruffle up a few feathers by posting an editorial regarding the mayor of Chicago’s plan to sell space on city property for commercial advertising. Now, I’m of the mind where – if you’re going to exercise your freedom of speech to voice a complaint – you damn well better be able to come up with some sort of a solution, too. So, with that said, it’s time to tidy up the birdcage. Figuratively.

Shortly after my article ran, it was official: the Bank of America advertisements had been slapped right onto the limestone of the Wabash Avenue bridge house. Alright, Rahm. I get it. Your city needs some money. Let’s put some heads together and brainstorm this one out, before Starbucks buys out “The Bean” to market some fresh-ground roast. Let’s try advertising the city itself, and avoid any coincidentally-shaped objects.

We’ve got a big city, and it’s a tall order to advertise it. I know, I know, you probably were hoping to sponsor a NASCAR driver and slap “Chicago” on the car, but you figured everyone would just probably wind up confusing it for that band that did “(I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long.” You figured right. Alright. We’ll try something else.

Now, if you want to install some art in town, why not run a large-scale public art installation? You could go the route of the “Cow Parade” we’d a few years ago. Come on. Have a little sense of humor about things, and give a nod of tongue-in-cheek homage to Mrs. O’Leary’s pyromaniac bovine. Mount some more fiberglass cows up. It worked the first time (for a comprehensive listing of the Chicago exhibit, consult the full “Cattle-logue,” and no, I’m not kidding). Those cows caused such a craze that local ice cream shops even started making cow-themed flavors to promote the event. Who else ever had cow-themed ice cream? (…lower your hand, State of Wisconsin). Heck, maybe even get a tie-in with Borden to promote some good ‘ol dairy product. Two birds, one stone, right? Nah. Makes too much sense. Let’s move onto something else.

Buddy Valestro, Michaelangelo of Cakes

Buddy Valestro, Michaelangelo of Cakes

Well, it’s a little too cold for ice cream, but what about something else to cure a sweet tooth? Cake shows are big right now. People love cakes. Love them enough to devote a half-hour of television programming watching time to them. Need a cake shaped like a bulldog wearing a top hat, balancing on a 90’s-era Ford Taurus, with flames painted down the sides? Not a problem for Buddy, the Cake Boss! Only have four hours to make a life sized Disney Princess from fondant and gum drops? The Ace of Cakes will have it done in two!!! The Food Network’s made one reality and/or competition show after another, challenging the opponents to make cakes with themes escalating in their ridiculousness. If you want some spectacle and something to satisfy a sweet tooth, that’s it. But let’s not stop there.

People may not like ads on bridges, but who doesn’t love cupcakes, Rahm?

People may not like ads on bridges, but who doesn’t love cupcakes, Rahm?

You know what’s bigger than cakes? Cupcakes. Yes, cupcakes. Seriously. There are vans that pull up to downtown high-rises in the loop to sell the darn things for five, six bucks a pop. Trust me. Last wintertime the cupcake truck (yes, such things do exist) would pull up to the high-rise I worked at in the Loop, and you’d see ladies dashing off to the doors as if they said “George Clooney’s in the building!!!” And, to be fair, the guys too (the smart ones would take a few home to their significant others). Lucky for me, my girlfriend has a gluten intolerance, so I was off the hook (at least with the cupcakes). But the cupcake craze has proven a very, very profitable industry. Moreso than cows. Or cow-themed ice cream, even.

So, Chicago politicians if you’d like to make some money – and score some points with your wives – I’d highly suggest a method that’s worked for every softball team and scout den.

Two words: Bake. Sale.

Main image credit to

Eric Labanauskas

Eric is a data entry specialist and contributing writer for the QLP Blog Squad. He is a city boy with a country heart, with an appetite for anything chicken-fried. He has studied as an apprentice at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, performed across the country as Buddy Holly in "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story," and can tie a bow tie by himself without the aid of a mirror. 1950's rock 'n roll is his soundtrack, especially while on road-trips with his lovely girlfriend. Suffice it to say, he is also the owner of some good cocktail party stories from his many experiences. You can also connect with Eric on Google+.


  1. amy

    This was hilarious, Eric! I saw the ‘Cows on Parade’ when they were in Chicago and it was so much fun to run around and see them all. I think they tried it the following year with sofas, but it wasn’t as big of a hit (shocking).

    And now I’m craving a cupcake, so thanks for that. Maybe a cupcake truck will drive up to QLP today 🙂 (hey, a girl can dream).

    • Eric

      Sofas? Or Cow-ches? Wakka wakka! If there’s anything the city shouldn’t ever do anything, it’s try and pass-off a pun like that one. The cows, though? Smart move.

      It was nice because it was unexpected. You wait at a crosswalk, you expect there’ll be a mailbox, or a parking meter, around the corner. The cows just seemed to come out of nowhere, though, and that always was part of the appeal to me. BAM! Cow in a Lincoln top hat. Expected? No.

      And hey, if we can find a pizza place that also serves chocolate cake, and delivers…I’m more than sure there’s got to be cupcake delivery out here in Aurora, too!

      • amy

        I went with my parents to see the cows and the Chicago Board of Tourism or something provided a map with all the names, locations, and a brief description of the cows. It was a great day, we took so many pictures!! However, we didn’t take as many pictures of the “cow-ches”. Because well, they were pretty lame.

        Cupcake delivery service? Hmm…. I think you’re onto something there, Eric 😉

  2. Mandy Kilinskis

    First of all, I really do want a Disney Princess cake made out of fondant and gum drops. If someone could get that to me as soon as possible, I would really appreciate it. I will take Belle or Rapunzel.

    But onto the city of Chicago. You’re absolutely right, they don’t need to sell out the city, they just need to sell the city. All of these suggestions, as tongue-in-cheek as they are, are actually really great ideas.

    I think the best thing about Chicago is the different flavors of the different neighborhoods. So why not do another art installment, but make it span across the city? Let all the great local artists decorate some kind of large…thing in the spirit of their neighborhood: Let Wickerpark deck out a cow in hipster glasses and a colorful scarf, Wrigleyville’s art will definitely sport a bunch of Cubs gear, the theater district can do a Shakespeare cow, etc. If you tie in art, music, theatre, and sports teams, you won’t just cater to the art lovers, but lovers of basically everything else. Also, with people dashing across the city to see the art, there will be a ton of money pumped back into public transportation or cab companies.

    The city of Avignon, France had a punch card for all of their major attractions. Once you visited one place for full price, you could visit the others at a discounted rate. I know that Chicago has a lot of passes already made, but imagine if the city sponsored a program like that! You would see an increase of traffic at all locations, and could even include places less traveled like the fully-awesome-but-loved-less Chicago History Museum. If they don’t fill it up this trip, they’re more likely to come back again. If you hit every attraction, maybe the card could partner with local hotels to give holders a $50-$100 credit on their next stay.

    Pimp out our culture! So many celebrities say that theatre in Chicago is just as fantastic (and actually a lot more fun) than theatre in New York. Has anyone been reminded lately that our Art Institute has the biggest collection of Impressionist paintings outside of Europe? Or how about how the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is one of the best in the country (if not the world)?

    Bah, I could go on and on about this, but I’m approach an Eric-length comment here.

    In conclusion, I concur. Let’s get creative, Chicago politicians. 🙂

    • Eric

      Sitting here thinking on it, I’m more than sure they’ve had at least one Disney Princess-themed competition cake show on the Food Network. They way things go with reality TV, heck, they’ve probably gone into the more obscure [and less popular] princesses.

      I liked the cows when the artist took ownership of the area, or the neighborhood, and reflected it in how he or she chose to paint their cow. It showed ownership of the neighborhood, and pride in it, too. You’re on the same page as me, though…putting up a few random sculptures has more of a trickle-down effect than most people could imagine.

      LOVE the Chicago History Museum. I’ve walked all the way, there and back, from the LaSalle St. Metra Station, in the dead of winter before. That’s how much I enjoy it.

      That the thing…you think about it, you can make turn those sculptures into metaphorical trails of bread crumbs, and lead folks along to where ever you’d like.

      Avignon – like most of Europe – usually is a million steps ahead, culturally-speaking, than we are in the States. Hell…you know what? Why not GROUPON admission fares for the museums? Some – like the Shedd – are just plain expensive (having made all the sections “ala carte”). It’s weird to think of Groupon offering something like CSO tickets, but if it gets more people in the door, and rejuvenates interest, I’d be all for it.

      Alright, alright. I could go on.

      Hey, Chicago Chamber of Commerce? Tourism Department? You ever need a changing of the guard, we’ve got a couple of us here who could help come up with some bright ideas.

      You said it best, though, Mandy…

      Pimp our culture!!!

      • Rachel

        Funny that you mention offering a Groupon for Shedd Aquarium …

        • Eric

          Should’ve waited a few days, plugged that into the article, and hope the Shedd would’ve hooked me up. Man!!!

          Looks like I’ve got at least one good idea, though. Awesome.

          Thanks for sharing, Rachel!

  3. Alex Brodsky

    I was in D.C. earlier this year, casually strolling down the street in the Georgetown area. Low and behold, what do I come upon? A line of people extending all the way down the street, LITERALLY as far as my eyes could see (although a hill played into my inability to see incredibly far.

    I asked my brother, the D.C. resident, what could that possibly be? Free money giveaway? Line to get a kiss from Heidi Klum? He responded with one simple word: CUPCAKES.

    There was a famous cupcake shop up the street. People wait in that line for up to TWO hours for those tiny treats. In that time, a person could go to a grocery store, purchase all the items they would need, go home, bake a batch of their own cupcakes, and devour them all.

    Basically, the point to my story is: your cupcake idea would make a ton of money.

    • amy

      Was it Georgetown Cupcakes?!?! They’ve got a show on TLC called ‘DC Cupcakes’ that’s always on it seems. Sad to say, but I’d be one of those waiting in line for 2 hours just to say I’ve been there and had one. Yum 😀

      • Eric

        Replying to a reply…whoa, alternate universe! Word on the street had it that the joint featured in the SNL digital short, “Lazy Sunday,” blew the heck up when it came to their business. People love, and I mean LOVE, cupcakes. I’ve no idea why…isn’t that along the same lines of what “Fun Size” candy bars are to the real McCoy? Then again, I’d totally be the schmuck to wait outside Carlos’ Bakery to have a single cannolo.


        Double those kitchens as space-heated bus stations in the winter months, and BAM! Two birds. One stone.

        You’re welcome, Rahm.

  4. Jen

    Great Post Eric, I fully support the idea of a city-wide bake sale. 🙂 Yum!

    • Eric

      I miss a good bake sale…are schools even legally and/or nutritionally allowed to have those, anymore? What do they do now? A veggie farmer’s market? Boy, how times have changed.

  5. Jenna Markowski

    These are all great suggestions for ways that the city could bring in money other than plastering historical landmarks with advertisements. I think the Groupon offers for things in the city is a great idea! But I’m partial to the city-wide bake sale. Because….I mean, CUPCAKES. UNLIMITED CUPCAKES. The cure for economic failure? Cupcakes, obviously. Why the supercommitte didn’t come up with that plan is beyond me.

    • Eric


      They should just replace the toll booths on the I-PASS tollway roads with bake sale tables…I’d actually be happy to give them a dollar if I knew I’d be getting a cupcake in return.

      Eh, Illinois? Eh?!?!

      Someone, anyone, everyone share/like/tweet this like bananas in the hope that idea takes off.

  6. Jill Tooley

    Well thanks a lot, Eric. Ever since I read this, my tummy has yearned for a good cupcake! I’ve never had a gourmet one (although I do enjoy the specialty vegan ones) but perhaps I will someday. $6 is a bit steep…that had better be the tastiest cupcake on this side of the Mississippi! 😉

    This post had me cracking up from start to finish. I think my favorite part was “lower your hand, State of Wisconsin!” Haha…

  7. Eric

    $6. I know. You almost want to ask a couple co-workers, “Hey!!! Who wants to pool together and buy a cupcake?”

    My old office – from time to time – would order a box of miniature-sized gourmet cupcakes from one of these vans. When I put it like that, I have to admit, buying cupcakes from a van sounds shady no matter how you put it. From what I remember, the chocolate ones were pretty darn good. So much so, I actually ate the entire thing. Normally I’ll just spend my good time on the frosting and don’t much care for the “cake” part of the cupcake.

    Yep. I’m that guy…Mr. “Dibs on the corner piece!!!” anytime it comes to dishing-out birthday cake.

    Wisconsin’s inherently funny…if there were such things as state hats, theirs would be a block of cheese. You can’t even make this stuff up, it’s such comedy gold.

    And now that I’ve spent two days yammering about cupcakes, looks like my grocery shopping this weekend’s going to be a little distracted. Awesome.

  8. Amanda

    I love this post Eric, it had me cracking up! But I am now officially in disapproval of the ads on Chicago architecture. After seeing it in that picture from your link, I don’t like it one bit. Just looks wrong. Makes the bridge look cheap or something. =(

    I loved the cow displays in Chicago, they should absolutely do something like that again, like now! I am going to spend a lot of time in Chicago this month, and I am now really not looking forward to seeing these ads in person.

    But, on a lighter note (well not calorie-wise, but happier anyway), hands downs the best cupcakes I’ve ever had come from:
    Funny enough, they’re not too far away from TAILS Humane Society…roadtrip QLP!!!???

  9. Eric

    Well, from what it seems, I don’t think they’ve lights shining on those bridge house advertisements, so as soon as the sun sets, you’ll probably forget about them altogether.

    Loved the cows. I never knew (until I started doing research for this post) that they put those cows all over the world, in different cities. For some reason I always though it was a “Mrs. O’Leary’s” reference…guess that makes us that much cooler for actually having some sort of significance to it. Get some corporations and companies to sponsor cows, and maybe have some big name designers come in and give their spin to it. BAM! Ed Hardy cow, something like that. The company gets an advertisement, we get some cool-looking street art. Win-win.

    Enjoy the city! I think it’s at its best around the holidays, especially with all the lights strung up. I usually make a trip to the Walnut Room around this time of year.

    I’ll never forget my dinner there last year: my server’s name – and I’m not even making this one up – “Jesus.”

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