What Brands Can Learn From a Wiener

Extraordinary Experiences Are Always Recession-Proof

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I know what you're thinking. "Not another recession article -- ugh." Well it's not, really.

Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go for a ride in the world-famous Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. Actually, I went on several rides -- and it started with getting picked up at the Las Vegas airport, no less. Right off the bat, there were several things I noticed as I approached the giant wiener on wheels. It was surrounded by a crowd. Everyone was taking pictures, talking to each other about it and, of course, smiling. Just take a look at my own behavior as I sat inside of it. I was instantly transformed into a child. Which isn't really hard for me because I'm a kid at heart, but as we drove around I noticed that the Wienermobile had this effect on virtually everyone.

We rode on the Strip, where cops on bicycles stopped us to ask for "wiener whistles," and made a stop at Zappos, where we witnessed full-grown adults literally skipping around the Wienermobile as they sang, "How I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener." On the Las Vegas Strip itself, where there is no shortage of photo opportunities, people stopped in their tracks, fumbling to get out their cameras before we passed them by. Toward the end of my trip spent in the Wienermobile, several things became clear to me. For starters, the Wienermobile teaches us about what it means to produce a "social object," as prominent blogger Hugh McLeod puts it. It's an object that connects people, gets them talking and, more important, gets them sharing stories as I am doing here. Think about this lesson as it came before "social media" was ever invented.

Secondly, it is an experience. From the crafting of the vehicle to the whistles to the "Hotdoggers" who drive them (and undergo some serious training), everything about the Wienermobile is designed to be memorable.

Lastly, the model has become somewhat scalable. What started out as one Wienermobile has now grown to seven, which cover geographical regions of North America. And the Wienermobile has survived tougher times than our current recession. For example, during World War II it had to be taken off the road due to gasoline rationing. Today it's alive and well, and the latest addition is a more fuel-friendly version built off the chassis of a Mini Cooper.

But my greatest epiphany was this: Had Carl G. Mayer, nephew of Oscar Mayer and creator of the Wienermobile, put his concept in front of a bunch of marketing executives, I'm not certain it would have ever gotten the green light to move forward. Think about it -- if you never saw the Wienermobile in action, how would you estimate return on investment? I mean it's not actually selling hot dogs and it is dependent on fuel and maintenance. Aside from giving out coupons in front of grocery chains, how do you measure the ROI of something like the Wienermobile? How do you measure smiles? What do those get you?

David Armano David Armano also writes the popular Logic + Emotion blog.
Well, I think they get you a lot. And I think Carl realized something that maybe today's cash-strapped CMOs might not. A brand like Oscar Mayer isn't just selling hot dogs -- it is actually selling smiles. Like the ones at a baseball game or family grill out or a party. Wieners are a commodity. A winning brand is not. And the Wienermobile helps take Oscar Meyer out of the commodity game and into a game where brand affinity matters and leads to sales.

At Critical Mass, we think about experiences like this as extraordinary. And extraordinary experiences are practically recession-proof. The Wienermobile has gone "2.0" with an account on Twitter and even a blog. Let's see if those smiles can translate online, since affinity has a way of translating to sales offline.

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