May 31, 2011
by Larry Aylward
If you think a loaded-up, foot-long hot dog is a big gimmick, get a load of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile and the Johnsonville Big Taste Grill. Talk about big gimmicks. At 11 feet high and 27 feet long, the Wienermobile is no Ford Focus. Weighing in at 53,000 lbs., the Big Taste Grill is no backyard barbecuer.
While they’re huge gimmicks, the Wienermobile and the Big Taste Grill help define their respective brands. And brand equity seems to be everything these days.
Who thinks up these gimmicks? In Oscar Mayer’s case, it was Carl G. Mayer, Oscar’s nephew, who invented the Wienermobile in 1936. It’s still cruising along strong 75 years later. There are seven Wienermobiles in existence. The most recent version, built in 2004, includes a voice-activated GPS navigation device, an audio center with a wireless microphone and a horn that plays the Wiener Jingle in 21 different genres from Cajun to Rap to Bossa Nova. An even more recent version is based on a bright yellow Mini-Cooper that has been morphed into a giant hot dog carrier.
The Johnsonville Big Taste Grill was built in 1995 to celebrate Johnsonville Sausage’s 50th anniversary. Billed as the world’s largest touring grill, the Big Taste Grill is 6 feet in diameter, 20 feet tall and 65 feet in length.
The grill also features a 6,000-lb. lid with an 8-foot handle that’s opened by hydraulics. The grill’s 440,000 BTU’s can cook 750 brat-wursts at a time or about 2,500 brats per hour. A 4-foot aluminum walkway, which is set up along the border of the grill, allows for more than 12 grillers at once.
The Big Taste Grill has been such a success that Johnsonville built two more. The three grills cook and serve close to 1 million brats while touring the country annually. While good for business, the Big Taste Grill is also good for charity. Johnsonville has raised about $2.5 million for local and national charities over the years using the Herculean grill as the draw.
But big gimmicks don’t have to be 27 feet long or weigh 53,000 lbs. to be successful. Consider Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, which seems to get bigger and bigger every year.
In 2010, more than 40,000 spectators attended the July 4th event on Coney Island in Brooklyn. About 1.677 million viewers watched it live on ESPN. The contest, in its 96th year, has made a star out of Joey Chestnut, the three-time champion who consumed 54 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes to win it last year. Chestnut won $20,000 for the effort.
On a more regional level, Hatfield, Pa.-based Hatfield Quality Meats has found a winning gimmick with its Hatfield Hot Dog Launcher, which is a hit among baseball fans at Citizens Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies. Hatfield has been a partner with the Phillies since the mid-1990s, and is the producer of Phillies Franks, the hot dogs served at the park.
The famous hot dog launcher, a collaborative brainstorm between Hatfield and the team, made its first appearance in the mid-1990s. But in 2004, with the opening of Citizens Park, an improved launcher was introduced as a cannon-style gun that shoots Phillies Franks to fans at distances of more than 200 feet.
Some of the best gimmicks hot dogs have going for them are the places they’re served. Consider Pink’s, the renowned hot dog eatery in Hollywood, which serves Hoffy hot dogs from Square-H Brands. Pink’s says its all-beef, natural-casing hot dogs have been specially made by Square-H Brands since its existence.
Pink’s is located near the corner of Melrose and La Brea. While it has been in the same popular location for more than 70 years, that real estate is worth a little more money today. Pink’s, of course, has helped raise that rent.
Aylward is a freelance writer from Cleveland.