Hotdog! Wienermobile recruits on campus

Since Monday, Alex Lando and Joe Zerka, also known as “hotdoggers,” have been driving the Wienermobile through campus honking and waving at passersby while sharing their stories of how they became drivers. Now they are recruiting college students to become the next class of hotdoggers, the 28th in Oscar Mayer history. 

“When I was a senior at University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Wienermoble came on campus to recruit. I grew up with the Wienermobile and knew all about it but I always wondered who drove it,” said Lando, a former journalism student who was approached by the two drivers, noting that they typically sought out public relations students. “It’s just a fun quirky job that allows you to use your education in a really fun way and let’s your personality shine through.”

In 1936, Karl Mayer, nephew of Oscar Mayer, founder of the world-renowned hot dog company, created the first version of the Wienermobile, a 27-foot long fiberglass automobile shaped like a hotdog in a bun that is used to promote Oscar Mayer all over the country. Since then, the Wienermobile has evolved into an American icon that has become a treasured rarity if seen. 

Both Lando and Zerka are two of 12 drivers who are driving one of six Wienermobiles currently traveling the country. Each selected hotdogger is notified in the beginning of each year, and then sent off to Hot Dog High, where they learn teambuilding skills and hotdog puns, like “Franks a bunch!” After they graduate, the hotdoggers are set off in June to travel their list of targeted cities and end their quest the following June. 

To become a hotdogger, Lando and Zerka went through several interview processes, and were just 2 of the 1,500 that applied for the position. Turns out, everyone does wish to be an Oscar Mayer Wiener. 

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Since the beginning of June 2014, Lando has traveled to 21 states and Zerka has traveled 16; their differing state number is due to them traveling in different zones. The 46-week travel is cut up into two semesters, where they are paired with new drivers and a possible transfer to a new Wienermobile.

“A lot of people say things like ‘Oh, you just drive a hotdog around all day,’ but that couldn’t be farther from the truth,” Lando said. “We get fabulous public relations experience because we’re calling the media, we’re talking to the news outlets, we’re arranging the events in addition to driving a hotdog and handing out wiener whistles.” 

During their travels, Lando and Zerka have a prearranged list of cities they are set to hit, with Champaign-Urbana being one of 10 college campuses this particular Wienermobile is visiting. If they aren’t recruiting on a college campus, they are visiting charitable organizations such as the Ronald McDonald House and the Red Cross Foundation, or retailers of Oscar Mayer products like grocery stores and gas stations.

“One thing I can really say is that your comfort zone is huge now,” said Zerka, a public relations graduate from University of Minnesota. “I’ve kept count of how many whistles we’ve given out and how many people we’ve met, and I’ve given out 39,000 whistles and met 20,000 plus people since June.”

Zerka learned of the hotdogger opportunity through his internship with Nabisco.

“As much as I’ve grown personally, I’ve also grown professionally as well. On this job, your only two constancies is your Weinermobile and co-pilot so you have to learn to make strangers your friends and family.”

Frances can be reached at [email protected].