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TESS VIGELAND: So how many burgers and hotdogs are you planning to blacken on the grill today? Well hopefully the dogs are a little fresher than this next one: Oscar Mayer's Wienermobile is 70 years old this year. The company founder's nephew, Carl Mayer, created the frankfurter-on-wheels. Believe it or not, six of them currently cruise the nation. Reporter Brian Bull hopped aboard — mustard and relish in hand — to learn exactly what draws folks to the meaty icon.
BRIAN BULL: On a shady lane in Madison, Wisconsin, Natasha Best steers a 27-foot long, 7-ton Wienermobile through town with fellow "hot dogger" Dave Lakata. She honks the horn at some children:
[ "Oh I wish I were an Oscar-Mayer wiener . . ." ]
NATASHA BEST: "Any time we pass a group of kids, we always play that horn for them."
Lakata, of Roxbury, New Jersey, and Best, from Yonkers, New York, are two of 12 "Hot Doggers" chosen from more than a thousand applicants to pilot Oscar-Mayer's fleet of six Wienermobiles.
Each year, they drive a combined 150,000 miles, visiting state fairs and other events, often attracting enthusiastic crowds.
Monica Wingate of the A.C. Nielsen Center for Marketing Research, says the Wienermobile has endured as a marketing gimmick because it blends the right mix of spectacle, kitsch and nostalgia.
MONICA WINGATE:"It's cool in an anti-cool kind of way. The hot dog itself conjures up all sorts of memories, of being outdoors, of summertime, of road-trips and family."
When Carl Mayer first proposed the idea of a 13-foot metal wiener on wheels, no one knew just how popular it would become.
While the company wouldn't disclose how much is spent on the six-dog fleet, a spokesman said the Wienermobiles pay for themselves with strong brand recognition among consumers.
ED ROLAND:"The Americana that exists with the Wienermobile is truly a priceless thing for us."
Ed Roland manages the "hot dogger" program for Oscar-Mayer. He says his drivers are often approached by older people, who recall the Wienermobile as more than a simple novelty.
ROLAND: "One of the first things that every Hot Dogger hears when a customer comes up to them is, 'I remember when . . . ''I remember when I was 12 and I saw the Weinermobile at the state fair . . .' It's very nostalgic.
MOTHER: "Oh look at what you got, a Weinermobile whistle!
KID: "Can you open it, Mommy?"
MOTHER:"I'd be happy to open it."
At the Fiesta Hispano event in Madison, new generations are catching on to the legacy. Hot Dogger Natasha Best coaches a girl with pigtails on the company's trademark jingle . . .
BEST: Okay, "Oh I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener . . .
GIRL:"Oh I wish I were an Oscar Mayer . . .
. . . while Dave Lakata hands out Wienermobile whistles. He says Hot Doggers are treated like celebrities.
LAKATA:"You never go incognito because anywhere you go you always have people waving to you and taking photos. And you get to interact with children, adults, parents, grandparents . . . we love it!"
Soon Lakata and Best will surrender their keys to a new crew of Hot Doggers.
With its global-positioning system and gull-wing hydraulic door, the current Weinermobile's a far cry from the original. But Carl Mayer's vision of a mobile marketing vehicle in a bun can still cut the mustard.
In Madison, Wisconsin, I'm Brian Bull for Marketplace.