Robert Sawatzky
Sep 27, 2018

How Fearless Girl was nearly Fearless Cow

McCann’s global creative chairman Rob Reilly tells the behind-the-scenes story of the little girl who took on Wall Street, but could have been a cow taking on Silicon Valley.

How Fearless Girl was nearly Fearless Cow

Rob Reilly came to Spikes Asia 2018 with a message of being fearless, trusting your creative instincts and bringing clients on board with inspired ideas. So the question seemed a rhetorical one:

Is compromise the killer of creativity?

His answer in an exclusive interview with Campaign Asia-Pacific ahead of his Spikes appearance was surprising. “I don’t think so. Compromise is often the only way that creativity gets done,” says Reilly. “In fact, sometimes it makes it better.”

Advertising is not pure art, Reilly says. It’s a skill that involves taking the fears or wishes of a paying client that might not exactly line up with the initial vision, worked into something just as good or better. 

Case in point: Fearless Girl

“When Fearless Girl started, it wasn’t a girl," Reilly says. "The original idea we presented to State Street was not a little girl but a female bull. We presented a female bull to our client and they said ‘we know you love this idea, but we’re just not that comfortable with it.’”  

Ultimately, Reilly says, they knew something was off. After all there’s no such thing as a female bull—it would have been a cow, which Reilly admits was “the last thing any brand wants to represent female empowerment.”

McCann's original statue rendering to client

“It started as a horrible idea, but we knew there was something awesome about it.” Clients loved the standoff but didn’t love the cow. Was there a compromise? “Yeah,” Reilly recalls. “How about a little girl with her hands on her hips staring down the bull? Now when you look at Fearless Girl you can’t imagine her any other way. So I actually think compromise is sometimes the thing that unleashes creativity and keeps it alive.”

State Street or Microsoft?

It was not a given that Fearless Girl would do the wonders she did for State Street either. In fact, as Reilly recalls, State Street took awhile to come on board despite continued tweaking. At one point it even allowed McCann to present her to other clients, which McCann did.

One of the clients McCann went to was Microsoft, proposing the idea as part of a campaign around women in technology. Kathleen Hall, VP of brand and advertising, liked the campaign and gave McCann feedback, (including making Fearless Girl slightly older than initially conceived) but ultimately decided it best fit a financial company like State Street, an incredibly generous act, as Reilly sees it. 

“Microsoft could have done it, and it probably would have been as successful,” Reilly says, but they selflessly pointed the campaign to a client that made sense.

“So it’s really an awesome story. In general, what wins is creativity. What wins is brands doing important things. Our competition is not each other. Our competition is CEOs and boards of big corporations believing in the power of creativity itself and investing more money. So it’s interesting how this industry helped make this idea.”

In the end after nearly a year of reworking by McCann’s creative duo of Tali Gumbiner and Lizzie Wilson, along with State Street’s new CMO Stephen Tisdalle, the financial firm took it on to promote its gender diversity ETF, the SHE fund.

“This is why you keep ideas alive,” Reilly says. “You don’t call it compromise. You call it keep working the problem until you have something that everyone can agree on that’s still great or even better than it was at first.”

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