Selling Hot Meat the Old-Fashioned Way

Let it be said: The man had a big wiener. And he rode that wiener to uncharted profits, success and prominence.

There was, of course, a time when “the man had a big wiener” would have earned you a few titters, but nary an eye-roll, and that’s the period when the Oscar G. Mayer name first meant something innocently fun and pleasing in the world of television. Mayer, the retired chairman and grandson of the founder of one of the biggest beef frankfurter brands in the United States, died July 8 at age 95.

He also, let it be said, had a way with b-o-l-o-g-n-a.

In the 1960s, animated ads boasted that Oscar Mayer franks were “all meat–all good meat,” and featured a group of marching kids singing one of the period’s best-loved TV jingles.

Then there was the 1970s bologna ad, and that singing, curly-haired kid with a fishing pole in one hand and a floppy half-sandwich in the other.

News of the death of Mr. Mayer came, strangely enough, the same week that fast food giant Burger King was pushed to revisit propriety questions about more of its ads.

A few months ago I blogged about Burger King’s “I Like Square Butts” commercial, and the ridiculousness of linking beloved kid character SpongeBob SquarePants with nutty, purely sexual images. In reports that followed, Burger King responded by saying the ad was aimed at adults and was shown during adult programming and, therefore, not meant “for kids.” It’s funny how many times I then saw that same commercial playing during family programming, watching it with my own kids. Nice.

At present, Burger King is celebrating its new BK Super Seven Incher with a print ad featuring a shocked, red lipsticked blonde woman seemingly wondering how she’ll be able to cram that thing into her mouth. The meaty beaty big and bouncy sandwich will “Blow Your Mind Away,” the ad promises. Apparently, the ad-and the sandwich-is only available in Singapore. For now.

And it ain’t all about BK. Quiznos has its own “toasty torpedo” commercial with a hot oven suggesting the sandwich man should “put it in me.” And yet this somehow seems different than, say, Hardees’ Padma Lakshmi commercial which is unashamedly, unabashedly, hilariously sexy. Or maybe it’s just that I’m only human.

But I’m also thinking back to a time when commercials for some form of meat product weren’t so blatantly, even graphically, erotic. Somehow, those ads worked back then. Perhaps because they had something these new ads sorely lack: the slightest hint of subtlety.

Amazingly, those ads still work, along with the whole wiener concept. Since 1936, Oscar Mayer has sent a ginormous wiener on wheels across the country, thrilling kids and families alike.

The Wienermobile is, according to the Kraft Foods site, a custom-made fiberglass Hot Dog resting on both a lightly toasted bun and a Chevrolet W4 Series chassis. On the inside, said Dog has seating for six in mustard and ketchup colored seats. The hot rod is 27 feet — or 55 hot dogs — long and travels around the country, promoting the brand and running fun contests. That is one goodwill wiener. And ads still play off the “Oh I wish” concept, along with the tagline, “You Can Count On Oscar.” Yes, you can count on Oscar not asking you to take its hot, juicy — oh, nevermind.

I understand that different brands need different strategies to stand out, and that there’s incredible competition in the fast food market. But, oh, I wish these guys were smart enough to figure out what makes them stand out in a positive way and what doesn’t.

And thanks, Mr. Mayer for decades of a good jingle. Not to mention your tasty wieners.

Robert Edelstein

Rob has written for Broadcasting+Cable since 2006, starting with his work on the magazine’s award-winning 75th-anniversary issue. He was born a few blocks away from Yankee Stadium … so of course he’s published three books on NASCAR, most notably, Full Throttle: The Life and Fast Times of NASCAR Legend Curtis Turner. He’s currently the special projects editor at TV Guide Magazine. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post and his origami art has been in The Wall Street Journal. He lives with his family in New Jersey and is writing a novel about the Wild West.