Unlike most students in my class that year, I was lucky enough to secure a job that started three weeks after my graduation day. I was very excited for the job, but there was some controversy in that my family and friends thought it was a joke, career suicide and, worst of all, a waste of my college degree.
So what was the job? I was selected to be one of the 18 people chosen to drive the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile for a full year. There were six different Wienermobiles, or, as we called them WMBs, and each WMB had three people who traveled inside. I was excited at what lay ahead -- even though I had no idea what my title of "hotdogger" actually meant. But hey, any job where I didn't have to go to the office, I was in!
On my first day, upon landing in Madison, Wis. (home of the WMB corporate headquarters), all of the hotdoggers were greeted at the airport gate by Oscar Mayer executives. We were then put up in a hotel for two weeks and taken through "Hot Dog High," where industry professionals were brought in to teach us for 12 hours a day about PR, marketing, events, expenses, travel and, most importantly, how to handle the general public -- a skill I don't think enough people take into consideration.
Once we "graduated," we were sent off in our Wienermobiles for a year straight doing all the interviews and local press for Oscar Mayer while sourcing and executing events. No, we didn't sell hot dogs. No, we didn't need to eat hot dogs. And yes, we slept in hotels, not inside the dog.
The one thing that I was most amazed by was the classiness of the Oscar Mayer organization. The head of the Wienermobile department, Russ Whitacre, would always tell us the Mayer family, lead by Oscar Mayer (the person), would always have insight and tips for the hotdoggers. Even though the company had been sold by the family and was now a part of Kraft Foods, the Mayer family, we were told, took great pride in the name and the company. This was the primary reason the hotdogger job was taken so seriously.
And boy did we need the insight and tips. I still remember in my first radio interview. The DJ host asked me, "Does the Wienermobile get longer and harder when it goes through tunnels?" I answered it seriously: "No." (Although I was laughing on the inside, as that was a hilarious question.)
At that moment I realized how hard it must have been for the family to stand its ground and take this seriously -- because people from the outside world obviously have jokes as soon as you say the word "wiener" or they see the Wienermobile.
On July 6, Oscar G. Mayer died at 95. He was the third Oscar Mayer in the family that founded Oscar Mayer Foods. It was his family's brand vision that made sure we hotdoggers presented ourselves as professionals.
While the modern world brings complicated wrinkles to the Wienermobile -- such as childhood obesity, PETA, etc. -- the concept was simply to create the first mobile-marketing vehicle, one that would bring smiles to kids' faces and help differentiate the brand in the market.
A century later, after millions of wiener whistles have been distributed and "The Oscar Mayer Wiener Jingle" and "The Oscar Mayer Bologna Song" have become part of Americana, I say, in the spirit of Mr. Mayer's love of puns, "frank you" for everything, it was a "bunderful" ride.
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR|
Douglas L. Melville is currently the president of Red Carpet Runway and a strategic adviser for various entertainment brands and personalities.