Coincidentally, the vehicle pulled up and parked while students in BA A463: Branding and Content Marketing Strategies were meeting in Rasmuson Hall.
“I received a message saying the Wienermobile was on campus at the Bookstore,” said marketing professor Christina McDowell, who designed the course. “I was in the middle of class and thought this was a perfect opportunity to show mobile marketing in action.”
Obviously, a field trip was in order.
Oscar Mayer has a way with B-R-A-N-D-I-N-G
In McDowell’s class, students learn to be storytellers. “Every brand, company and product you interact with has a story,” she noted, adding that marketers can’t just “push” content on consumers, but “pull” users in through quality content that connects. As platforms and voices continuously change, brands that can draw consumers to find its content are the ones that make a marketing impact amid the noise.
“Marketing is about connecting with consumers,” McDowell explained. “It’s more than just selling a product. It’s about creating valuable products and experiences for humans.”
A perfect example of “pull” marketing — one that’s been generating attention since 1936 — is the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. Case in point: some people follow it for miles down the highway just to snap a photo.
The vehicle is part of an impressive advertising history. In the 1920s, Oscar Mayer distinguished its product from competitors with a simple yellow band, a bit of branding it maintains today. With Wienermobiles on the road and catchy jingles burned in your memory, Oscar Mayer has stayed relevant — even prominent — since opening as a Chicago butcher shop in 1883. The product may be hot dogs and bologna, but the brand is a whole lot more.
So, when the Wienermobile made a surprise visit, McDowell was quick to capitalize. The timing was ideal, as the class had previously covered branding components (like awareness, loyalty, equity and strategy) and was shifting into content marketing. “I couldn’t have planned it better,” she laughed.
A field trip to the Student Union
After her lecture, McDowell directed the class to the Student Union.
“I don’t think at any other school you’re going to have a professor like McDowell, who is going to get a notification on their phone that the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile is here and then make the decision to let everyone go experience it,” said Nathan Adams, a marketing senior in the class. “And she didn’t just let us go, she tagged along and encouraged us to ask questions.”
Posted outside the vehicle, two full-time hotdoggers (yes, real job title) were answering frequently asked questions from passersby (“What’s the mileage?” “Thousands of smiles per gallon.” “How tall is it?” “24 hot dogs high”).
But marketing students had another slate of questions to ask. What kind of media does this attract? Is this part of a specific campaign? Which of you knows the most hot dog puns?
“It was interesting to see why they were doing it,” Adams noted. “It made me think of it from a critical approach. What did they stand to gain as a company?”
While most visitors are perfectly fine with a selfie, a wiener whistle, and a laugh, the marketing students dug a bit deeper. “This class makes you look at things at more than face value,” said Mitchell Hansen, a senior marketing major in McDowell’s class. “You think about the aspects of the whole campaign.”
The hotdoggers were happy to oblige. Every year, Oscar Mayer hires 12 recent college grads — including many marketing majors — to drive its fleet of Wienermobiles cross-country.
“At the beginning, we were just there for the novelty,” recalled Adams, “and toward the end, it almost seemed like a recruitment thing where they were excited about the prospect of having someone from UAA drive the Wienermobile.” (On that note, interested Seawolves can apply here.)
The spontaneous field trip was a success. McDowell called the chat with the hotdoggers a “tipping point” for her students’ understanding of content marketing, and how to leave a large audience wanting to find your brand.
An emphasis on experience
The field trip, though unexpected, fit what UAA students have come to expect from their marketing classes.
“There’s a big emphasis on applying what you’ve learned,” noted Adams, who heads to Cornell for a master’s degree in the fall.
McDowell’s students often design content for actual clients, like Clear Alaskan Glacial bottled water. Tori Phipps, a marketing and management student graduating this month, helped design a marketing strategy for Alaska Rock Gym as part of McDowell’s consumer behavior course in the fall.
“Based on the marketing strategy created, I designed a booklet that I am able to include in my portfolio with a well-known Alaska brand,” she noted. An added bonus: the rock gym even implemented a few of the students’ suggestions. “It was an incredibly valuable experience,” she said.
That emphasis on real-world experience is important to the college, but equally important to McDowell.
“I’m a big supporter of experiential learning and community engagement, so I do whatever I can to make sure my students are able to get out, meet people and learn how to put into practice what they’re learning in the classroom,” she said.
Though the Wienermobile may look like just a goofy hot dog on wheels, it’s also a powerful branding device.
And, in the eyes of the right professor, it’s an equally excellent teaching tool, too.
Written by J. Besl, Senior Wienermobile correspondent, UAA Office of University Advancement