The story behind Aeroshell’s iconic cow poster

As many of you read this, you may be on your way to EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, slated for July 28-Aug. 3. I hope to be there this year and may see some of you.

I always enjoy Oshkosh, but one of my best memories is of the 1993 Aeroshell Speed Dash and the world-renowned cow poster. If you have not seen a cow poster, you’ve missed the absolute peak of general aviation advertisement. How it happened is another story.

It all started when a good friend, Bruce Bohannon, called with his latest and greatest promotional idea. You probably have heard of people who think outside the box. Well Bruce is different — he doesn’t have a box, so he just thinks up things and the rest of the world sort of follows along.

His idea was to hold an Aeroshell Speed Dash at the 1993 Oshkosh airshow.  He proposed to have five Formula One aircraft make three-kilometer speed runs down the main runway at show central. The objective was to promote and create interest in general aviation, AirVenture and, oh yes, Shell — and to maybe set a world speed record.  Bruce and others helped pitch the idea to our management, and it was actually approved. That meant we needed to make all of the arrangements for the event.

One of the details was we needed some kind of poster for the event. But we did not know exactly which five planes were going to be able to be there, so that meant photos of the planes that would compete would not be available in time to make a poster.

In every organization there are a few creative minds, which are usually locked away in a basement so they do not confuse the normal business types (creative minds tend to make a hostile work environment for them.)

Deep in the basement of our advertising agency, they kept a few creative types for just such an occasion. They presented the problem to them and let them come up with suggestions for a poster for the speed dash. After a brainstorming session, they concluded that since we would be in Wisconsin, which is the dairy capital of the U.S., the poster should feature a dairy cow or two. A short time later, they came up with the concept of pictures of three cows — one at 0 mph, one at 150 mph, and one at 300 mph.

Full PosterOnce we had the concept, we needed to get it approved by upper management. A few liked it, but most thought it udderly ridiculous (sorry for the pun, but it is my column and I can do what I want).

After much discussion, the idea was kind of dead because the poster did not represent the proper serious image that the higher-ups wanted to portray for our product. What to do?

There is a saying that in life, timing is everything. The one manager who loved the poster got a promotion and transfer to another job and his parting shot was to approve the cow poster — and we ran with it.

When we got to Oshkosh, we started handing out posters to all of the volunteers and other EAA offices so that when people first arrived at the show, they saw one of the posters.

Other than a few people from large cites who thought the pictures were of dogs, people loved it. By midweek, the demand for the poster was unbelievable with people four to five deep around our booth looking for cow posters. Soon after the show, you could see them in almost every hangar and airport in the country.

In addition, the poster won numerous rewards and by all measures was an incredible success.

An interesting part of the story is that after the huge success of the poster, I thought I would rub it in a little for the managers  who had rejected it.  Each one of them had the same response when I asked them about it: “It was a great idea, and I am glad that I thought of it!”

To learn more about the Aeroshell Speed Dash, click here.


  1. Jim Hausch says

    I had no idea that was the first year for that poster! That was my first OSH. I have that poster; and many since. With that first poster we started a tradition of having it nicely matted and framed. Additonally, just below the poster and nicely bordered by the same matting, we include 3 or 4 pictures from the show that year.

    Thanks for the back story!

  2. Michael Dean says

    I notice that under “About General Aviation News Staff”… there is nothing. It’s totally blank. Are we to infer anything in particular by that?

    Just askin’.


    See you in OSH, next week.

  3. Greg Curtis says

    The managers’ comments are not that unusual as Scott Adams shows in comic feature using the pointy hair boss.

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