MAIL BOXES ETC.'S WIENER PATROL

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It's enough to make Mail Boxes Etc. holler, "Hot dog!"

The mail service has inadvertently tapped into the retro craze surrounding the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile in a new TV spot targeting traveling salesmen and company representatives.

San Diego agency Kenneth C. Smith Advertising sent a casting call to Mail Boxes Etc. franchisees asking for customer satisfaction stories involving "the ultimate road warrior." From a Los Angeles Mail Boxes Etc. came the tale of customer Chad Gretzema, a 23-year-old who drives the Wienermobile, distributing free wiener whistles and other such mementos. He uses Mail Boxes Etc. to send packages, receive faxes and handle other business duties while he's on the road.

In the 30-second spot, Mr. Gretzema discusses his work driving the 27-foot-long hot dog 345 days a year. Not surprisingly, he proclaims: "I relish the service I get from MBE, and that's no baloney."

The commercial, running on cable, is tagged "It's not what we do, it's how we do it." A second spot features the cross-country shipment of a two-seater yellow submarine. Mail Boxes Etc., with 3,000 centers worldwide, spends $14 million a year on national TV advertising.

The success of the Wienermobile spot-it was originally set to break next year until franchisees responded so positively-has led the agency to consult with Oscar Mayer officials on future promotions and tie-ins.

"It knew it was going to be good, but I had no idea it was going to be at that level," said Rich Badami, exec VP-creative director. "It's getting a life of its own."

Oscar Mayer Foods Corp. launched the first Wienermobile in 1936. Today, six Wienermobiles traverse the U.S., attending store openings and local parades, as well as backing company sponsorships of the National Football League.

"It's our version of the Goodyear blimp," said Russ Whitacre, Wienermobile manager for Oscar Mayer.

A motorized hot dog is also about to cross the border into Mexico, and two already roam the streets of Canada, and one each in Japan and Spain.

In the past two years, the Wienermobile has begun to develop a following of its own, with fans traveling miles to attend appearances and collect wiener keepsakes, Mr. Whitacre said. Awareness of the vehicle has risen from 44% of the U.S. population in 1987 to 84% in '94, he said.

Last year, the Wienermobile appeared in an Acura spot, created by Ketchum Advertising, Los Angeles, that called the Integra "as much fun as a car can be without condiments."

Oscar Mayer, which distributed 1 million free wiener whistles last year, is also considering moving into licensing.

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