What do you call a college graduate that gives up a year of his or her life to meander about the country in a charmingly garish and instantly recognizable rolling public relations stunt?
The year 2016 marked the 80th anniversary of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, a 27-foot-long, completely street-legal, bright orange, red, and yellow vehicle shaped like a hot dog and whose sole purpose is to make people smile … and maybe hunger for a frankfurter.
It Pays to Be a Hotdogger
Every year, the company hires 12 soon-to-be-college graduates (from as many as 1,500 applicants) to be hotdoggers–or more officially, Oscar Mayer Wienermobile Brand Ambassadors. The hotdoggers sign on for a one-year stint of driving across the country and showing up at various events, like grocery store openings, fund-raisers, and food shows. The gig comes with a decent salary, full-benefits, paid expenses … oh, and let’s not forget a generous amount of travel.
Oscar Mayer trains aspiring Wienermobile drivers at Hot Dog High–you can’t make this stuff up–in Madison, Wisconsin. Trainees are given 40 hours of instruction and assigned a specific region of the country. The company monitors their routes via GPS.
While the company schedules Wienermobile appearances, the hotdoggers themselves are charged with finding hotels, contacting media, and writing reports … in addition to actually making sure they make it to the event. Hotdoggers almost always travel in pairs, with one person driving and the other riding “shotbun” and waving to the crowds.
The waving is as much a part of the job as the appearances: as brand ambassadors, hotdoggers are the face of Oscar Meyer, and are expected to present a friendly, positive attitude while connecting with fans. They also need to be able to answer questions about Oscar Meyer’s history and products, including information on the Wienermobile itself.
Whose Idea Was This, Anyway?
The brainchild of Oscar Mayer’s nephew, Carl, the idea was simplicity in itself: build a 13-foot-long rolling hot dog and drive it around Chicago, stopping along the way to hand out complimentary wieners to curious onlookers. From 1936 on, various people donned a chef’s hat and played the role of “Little Oscar,” Oscar Mayer’s mascot. Little Oscar typically drove the Wienermobile, waving to pedestrians and providing wiener whistles for kids … whistles that could be used to alert other children that the Wienermobile had arrived in their neighborhood.
The advertising gimmick worked well throughout the ’40s and ’50s, but by the 1960s, the novelty had worn off. Interest in appearances dropped, and the whole show was put in storage for decades. But when the company dusted off the Wienermobile for its 50th anniversary, they discovered a whole new audience of baby boomers who wanted to their children to experience a piece of the past. Oscar Mayer ordered six new models for 1988, and Wienermobiles have been making the rounds ever since.
It’s a Wienerful Life
In a world dominated by social media, Fitbits, and the Internet of Things, the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile is a nostalgic piece of genuine Americana. Here’s hoping it will still be around for our grandchildren to enjoy as well. And who knows? Maybe one of them will turn out to be a hotdogger, as well.
It’s a weird job, but somebody’s gotta do it. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we suddenly feel hungry for a hot dog …