The Oscar Mayer Foods Corp. has marketed a variety of meats since German immigrant Oscar F. Mayer and his brother Gottfried opened a meat market on the north side of Chicago in 1883 Oscar Mayer also had a flair for marketing, which included sponsoring polka bands in the city's German neighborhoods and at the German exhibit in the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.
In 1904, as the popularity of their products grew, Oscar, Gottfried and another brother, Max, decided to identify their products with the Edelweiss brand to separate them from the competition. Thirteen years later, the company ran its first newspaper ads, replacing the Edelweiss trademark with "Approved brand."
Over the years, the core products remained the same, but technological innovations meant big changes in marketing for Oscar Mayer. In 1924, packaged, sliced bacon made its debut. Five years later, workers at the Chicago plant began affixing by hand the signature yellow bands that still wrap the wieners in the 21st century.
Early advertising agencies in the company's history included small local shops such as Howard H. Monk Advertising and M. Glen Miller & Co.
In 1936, the company introduced the Wienermobile, the invention of Carl G. Mayer, nephew of the company founder, who thought a 13-foot-long hot dog on wheels would be the appropriate vehicle for Little Oscar, the company's first spokesman?a man dressed as a chef who attended events to promote wieners.
TV sponsorships were the company's next marketing vehicle, starting in the 1950s, by which time the company had hired Sherman & Marquette as its agency. By 1968, Oscar Mayer was sponsoring prime-time TV shows, including "Here's Lucy" and "The Wonderful World of Disney."
Oscar Mayer used two different ad agencies until 1959, when the company, which had moved its headquarters to Madison, Wis., consolidated its account at J. Walter Thompson Co.
In 1963, "I Wish I Were an Oscar Mayer Wiener" debuted on Houston radio stations followed by national play. The catchy jingle was the winning entry in a competition conducted by the agency. Listeners even began calling radio stations to request what they thought was a pop tune, not a spot for hot dogs.
In 1974, Oscar Mayer unveiled "The Bologna Song" via JWT, the first line of which ("My bologna has a first name, it's O-S-C-A-R") became a part of American pop culture.
In 1988, the company introduced a line called Lunchables: prepackaged, ready-to-eat lunch combinations of meat, cheese and crackers that grew to 43 varieties by the beginning of the 21st century. Children continued to be the target market. Lunchables, the campaign explained, would let kids "make fun of lunch" by allowing them to put it together themselves. Single-serve packages of hot dogs, including condiments, chips and dessert, appeared under the Lunchables brand in 1998.
In 1971, the family-owned company went public. Ten years later, General Foods Corp. acquired Oscar Mayer. Four years later, General Foods became part of the Philip Morris Cos. Philip Morris acquired Kraft Inc., in 1988 and a year later combined Kraft and General Foods into one operating company under the name Kraft Foods.
In 1996 and '97, Oscar Mayer was the halftime sponsor of the National Football League's Super Bowl, which tied in with the company's yearlong talent search promotions featuring children.
In 2000, Oscar Mayer and JWT introduced packaged, sliced smoked ham with the tagline, "Oscar like you've never seen before." While it was a new message, the print advertising and packaging carried the signature yellow of Oscar Mayer.
To counter the negative press that in late 2002 began to cite Lunchables as one of the culprits in the childhood obesity epidemic and boost the faltering $600 million-plus brand, Oscar Mayer in January 2003 introduced a more nutritious line of Lunchables dubbed Fun Fuels backed by a major media push.
In 2004, Kraft launched a $25 million-plus umbrella campaign for Oscar Mayer from longtime agency JWT, Chicago, that played up its famous "Oh I Wish" jingle to promote the brand's contemporary lineup of deli meats, bacon and hot dogs to families. Research had shown that some consumers weren't even aware of the jingle, so the division wanted to bring it back by focusing on relevant product news.
In 2002, the company was spending $43.2 million to advertise Oscar Mayer meats.