If you visit any Spanish souvenir shop, you can find infinite iterations of a black silhouette of a bull standing proud, the unofficial symbol of Spain. It comes on pins, flags, tee-shirts, more tee-shirts, handbags, wallets, ash trays, sculptures, refrigerator magnets, towels, playing cards, and anything else you can think of.
It's the Osborne bull, and this is its story:
In 1954, the artist Manolo Prieto designed the bull for an advertising campaign for Osborne sherry and brandy. The silhouette was used as sort of a billboard, and the campaign was a big success. As the years passed, sheet-metal bulls 14 meters/46 feet high and weighing four tons came to tower over highways in 90 spots in Spain, usually on looming on the horizon as in the photo, in this case in the mountains near Jerez de la Frontera.
But starting in 1988, laws began to limit billboards along rural state highways. For a while, the Osborne bull managed to remain in place by eliminating the advertising slogans painted on them, but in 1994, they faced doom under toughened regulations.
By then, the bulls had gained fans. Some regional governments declared them "cultural assets." Artists, politicians, journalists, and associations campaigned to save the bull. Finally in December 1997, the Spanish Supreme Court ruled: "It has gone beyond its initial advertising purpose and become part of the landscape." The regulation was adjusted to permit the bull for its "aesthetic or cultural interest."
A bull that beloved can't stay safe from its fans, though. You can see the bull on Spanish flags at sporting events. These aren't official products. In fact, a lot of the souvenirs aren't official.
The Osborne Group, http://www.osborne.es, founded in 1772, makes most of its profits from sales of wine, spirits, ham, sausages, soft drinks, and energy drinks. It also has to spend a lot time protecting its trademark bull against fraudulent use. It's taken action against a half-million items over the last ten years.
In response, the Osborne Group has decided to expand the bull business: if people want to buy the bull, isn't the customer always right? It's selling rights to the image to 50 other firms and setting up official stores outside of Spain. By 2012, up to 500 kinds of products will be available in Europe, Latin America, and the United States, as well as from an on-line Internet store.
In all, bull souvenirs should soon be worth ten million euros a year, still nowhere near what Osborne makes selling food. Company spokesman Juan Alegría said the profits will be spent to add prestige to the trademark and to fight fraud.
Soon you will be able buy authentic souvenirs without having to travel to Spain, which will definitely take some of the fun out of it. But at least your bull-emblazoned silk tie or bedsheet will be genuine Osborne.
- Sue Burke
[Cross-posted from my professional writing website http://www.sue.burke.name]