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13 Juicy Facts You Might Not Know About Oscar Mayer

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It’s the all-American meat company that put a hot dog on wheels and managed to make bologna cute and lovable. Indeed, savvy marketing has been key to Oscar Mayer’s success through the years. And it began more than a century ago, when a German immigrant began stamping a floral brand on his signature sausage links and bacon slabs.

1. THERE REALLY WAS AN OSCAR MAYER.

Born in Germany in 1859, Oscar J. Mayer came to the U.S. at age 14 and learned the meat-making trade in Chicago. In his twenties, he and his brother Gottfried leased out a failing meat plant and within a matter of months had made it profitable. The plant’s owner refused to renew their lease, hoping to continue the Mayers’ success story himself. Unfazed, Oscar and Gottfried borrowed $10,000, opened another shop, and proceeded to make a fortune selling old-world sausages, bacon, and lard. From there, they went on to build an empire.

2. THE BRAND WAS ORIGINALLY KNOWN AS EDELWEISS.

In the early 1900s, meat makers typically didn’t brand their products. But the Mayers wanted customers to know that their meats were a cut above the competition, and to ask for them by name. So the brothers incorporated the brand Edelweiss—named, as any Sound of Music fan knows, for the high-altitude flower found in the Alps. The title lasted for 13 years before it became “Oscar Mayer Approved Meat Products.”

3. THEY EMBRACED FOOD SAFETY BEFORE THAT WAS A THING.

Shortly after the publication of Upton Sinclair’s 1906 meat industry exposé The Jungle, the U.S. government implemented the Federal Meat Inspection Act. Many meat companies fought the legislation and even denied inspectors access to their facilities. But Oscar Mayer became an early supporter of the bill, claiming it had nothing to hide.

4. THAT YELLOW BAND GOES WAY BACK.

An ad from 1947. clotho98 via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Oscar Mayer was ahead of the curve when it came to branding and marketing. To further distinguish its name in a crowded field of meat makers, the company began wrapping its hot dogs in yellow paper bands back in 1929. It’s a practice that endures today, and it’s become part of Oscar Mayer’s logo.

5. THE FIRST SPOKESMAN WAS A TINY CHEF NAMED “LITTLE OSCAR.”

He was the world’s smallest chef, according to the company, and he spent his days touring the country stumping for Oscar Mayer meats. Numerous pint-sized actors played the part, but the first was Meinhardt Raabe, a Wisconsin native who, after several years of playing Little Oscar, headed to Hollywood where he landed the one and only film role of his career: as the munchkin coroner in The Wizard of Oz who declares the Wicked Witch of the East "really most sincerely dead."

6. THE WIENERMOBILE DEBUTED IN 1936.

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Oscar’s nephew Carl came up with the Wienermobile as a vehicle for Little Oscar. The original version was just 13 feet long and looked like it was ready to roll into battle. Today, there are six Wienermobiles crisscrossing the country, and each measures 27 feet long and comes equipped with a GPS, cushy red-and-yellow seats, and an audio system that blasts the Wiener Jingle in 21 different musical styles.

7. ITS DRIVERS ARE KNOWN AS “HOTDOGGERS.”

Thousands apply; only a few are chosen. So what does it take? The company requires that applicants be college grads with a degree in marketing, public relations, or journalism. They also need to be outgoing, endlessly enthusiastic, and judging from one winning application, good with puns. “Let’s be frank,” Daniel Duff wrote in his successful Hotdogger application. “I would relish the opportunity.”

8. THE “WIENER JINGLE” IS ONE OF THE MOST SUCCESSFUL AD JINGLES IN HISTORY.

"I wish I were an Oscar Mayer Wiener…" Those now-famous words first made their way across the airwaves in 1963, and would continue to be featured in company ads for the next 50 years. The jingle came out of a contest the company put on. The writer, Richard Trentlage, modeled it after something his son had said about a daredevil friend who owned a dirt bike: “I wish I could be a dirt bike hot dog.” Trentlage, who only heard about the contest the night before the deadline, quickly wrote it down and had his two children sing the song while he strummed the banjo-uke. It was their voices (and Trentlage’s playing) that appeared in the original ad.

9. THE O-S-C-A-R AD DIDN’T FOLLOW THE SCRIPT.

Ten years after its wildly successful “Wiener Jingle,” Oscar Mayer came up with another kid-centered concept, this time to sell bologna. The idea was to film several children separately as they ran around and played outdoors while singing the jingle. Because they were so young, the kids didn’t even have to memorize the whole song. After an exhausting day of filming, the director approached Oscar Mayer’s VP of marketing, Jerry Ringlien, and asked what he should do with the 20 minutes of light remaining. As Ringlien recently recounted:

We said, do whatever you want to do—we’re packing up to get out of here … So he went to the kids and said, ‘is there anyone who can sing the whole commercial from beginning to end without making a mistake?’ And this one little kid raised his hand and said ‘Yes, I can.’ His name was Andy Lambros. So the director put him out on a pier, because that way he could take advantage of the light that was still left and said ‘okay, go ahead.’ And he did. He sang the whole song.

That final, last-minute take would become one of the most popular commercials of all time.

10. LUNCHABLES REVIVED THE COMPANY.

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Oscar Mayer struggled through the '80s as people began to grow tired of processed meat. The company had expanded into fresh turkey by buying Louis Rich in 1979, but it was the introduction of Lunchables in 1988 that helped Oscar Mayer regain its former glory. The product was ingenious, really: It was the same bologna Oscar Mayer had been selling for years, packaged along with crackers and cheese, and sold as a way for kids to create their own meal. In its first year, Lunchables brought in $317 million, and currently bring in an estimated $1 billion annually.

11. ITS PRODUCT FLOPS INCLUDE A QUARTER-POUND HOT DOG.

Every big company has its duds. Called “The Big One,” Oscar Mayer’s quarter-pound hot dog debuted in 1978 and quickly exited the market. Years later, hoping to cash in on the success of Lunchables, the company again overestimated people’s appetites with “Maxxed Out” Lunchables, which included 40 percent more food. 

12. THERE’S NOW A WIENER ROVER AND A WIENIE-BAGO.

Further proving Oscar Mayer’s love of vehicles and puns, there’s now an off-road capable Wiener Rover and a decked-out Wienie-Bago making promotional stops across the country. One’s only three-and-a-half feet long while the other is, well, a camper, but both come stuffed with hot dogs.

13. THEY’VE RIDDEN THE CORPORATE ROLLERCOASTER OVER THE PAST 30 YEARS.

Oscar Mayer remained a family-run business until 1981, when it sold to General Foods Corporation. Phillip Morris acquired General Foods soon after, then in 1989 placed Oscar Mayer under its newly acquired Kraft Foods brand. In 2012, the Altria Group (the new name for Phillip Morris) split Kraft in two, placing Oscar Mayer under its Mondelez International banner. Then just last year, Kraft merged with the grocery giant Heinz. To consolidate its holdings, Kraft Heinz announced it would move Oscar Mayer’s headquarters from Madison, Wisconsin to Chicago, and shut down several U.S. manufacturing plants. Welcome to the world of big food.

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13 Secrets of Halloween Costume Designers
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For consumers, Halloween may be all about scares, but for businesses, it’s all about profits. According to the National Retail Federation, consumers will spend $9.1 billion this year on spooky goods, including a record $3.4 billion on costumes. “It’s an opportunity to be something you’re not the other 364 days of the year,” Jonathan Weeks, CEO of Costumeish.com, tells Mental Floss. “It feels like anything goes.”

To get a better sense of what goes into those lurid, funny, and occasionally outrageous disguises, we spoke to a number of designers who are constantly trying to react to an evolving seasonal market. Here’s what we learned about what sells, what doesn’t, and why adding a “sexy” adjective to a costume doesn’t always work.

1. SOME COSTUMES ARE JUST TOO OUTRAGEOUS FOR RETAIL

A woman models a scary nun costume for Halloween
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For kids, Halloween is a time to look adorable in exchange for candy. For adults, it’s a time to push the envelope. Sometimes that means provocative, revealing costumes; other times, it means going for shock value. “You get looks at a party dressed as an Ebola worker,” Weeks says. “We have pregnant nun costumes, baby cigarette costumes.” The catch: You won’t be finding these at Walmart. “They’re meant for online, not Spencer’s or Party City.”

2. … BUT THERE ARE SOME LINES THEY WON’T CROSS.

Homeowners are scared by trick-or-treaters on Halloween
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Although Halloween is the one day of the year people can deploy a dark sense of humor without inviting personal or professional disaster, some costume makers draw their own line when it comes to how far to exceed the boundaries of good taste. “We’ve never done a child pimp costume, but someone else has,” says Robert Berman, co-founder of Rasta Imposta, a business that broke into the industry on the strength of their fake dreadlock wig in 1992. Weeks says some questionable ideas that have been brought to the discussion table have stayed there. “There’s no toddler KKK costume or baby Nazi costume,” he says. “There is a line.”

3. THEY CAN DESIGN AND PRODUCE A COSTUME IN A MATTER OF DAYS.

A man models a costume in front of a mirror
Rob Stothard/Getty Images

A lot of costume interest comes from what’s been making headlines in the fall: Costumers have to be ready to meet that demand. “We’re pretty good at being able to react quickly,” says Pilar Quintana, vice-president of merchandising for Yandy.com. “Something happening in April may not be strong enough to stick around for Halloween.”

Because the mail-order site has in-house models and isn’t beholden to approval from big box vendors, Quintana can design and photograph a costume so it’s available within 72 hours. If it's more elaborate, it can take a little longer: Both Yandy and Weeks had costumes inspired by the Cecil the Lion story that broke in July 2015 (in which a trophy hunter from Minnesota killed an African lion) on their sites in a matter of weeks.

4. BEYONCE CAN HELP MOVE STALE INVENTORY.

A screen shot from Formation, a music video featuring Beyonce
beyonceVEVO, YouTube

Extravagant custom tailoring jobs aside, Halloween costumes are a business of instant demand and instant gratification—inventory needs to be plentiful in order to fill the deluge of orders that come in a short frame of time. If a business miscalculates the popularity of a given theme, they might be stuck with overstock until they can find a better idea to hang on it. “Last year, we had 400 or 500 Zorro costumes that we couldn’t sell for $10,” Weeks says. “It had a big black hat that came with it, and I thought, ‘That looks familiar.’ It turned out it looked a lot like the one Beyonce wore in her ‘Lemonade’ video.” Remarketed as a "Formation" hat for Beyonce cosplayers, Weeks moved his stock.

5. WOMEN DON’T USUALLY WEAR MASKS.

A man tries on a Joker mask at a retail store
Rhona Wise/Getty Images

Curiously, there’s a large gender gap when it comes to the sculpted latex monster masks offered by Halloween vendors: They’re sold almost exclusively to men. “There just aren’t a lot of masks with female characters,” Weeks says. “I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s because men in general like gory, scary costumes.” One exception: Hillary Clinton masks, which were all the rage last year.

6. FOOD COSTUMES ARE ALWAYS A HIT.

A dog wears a hot dog costume for Halloween
iStock

At Rasta Imposta, Berman says political and pop culture trends can shift their plans, but one theme is a constant: People love to dress up as food. “We’ve had big success with food items. Bananas, pickles. We did an avocado.” Demand for these faux-edible costumes can occasionally get ugly: Rasta is currently suing Sears and Kmart for selling a banana costume that they allege infringes on Rasta’s copyrighted version, which has blackened ends and a vertical stripe.

7. ADDING ”SEXY” TO EVERYTHING DOESN’T ALWAYS WORK.

A packaged Halloween costume hangs on a store rack
Saul Loeb/Getty Images

It’s a recurring joke that some costume makers only need to add a “sexy” adjective to a design concept in order to make it marketable. While there’s some truth to that—Quintana references Yandy’s “sexy poop emoji” costume—it’s no guarantee of success. “We had a concept for ‘sexy cheese’ that was a no-go,” she says. “'Sexy corn’ didn’t really work at all. ‘Sexy anti-fascist’ didn’t make the cut this year.”

8. PEOPLE ASK FOR SOME WEIRD STUFF.

A person appears in a skull costume with glowing eyes for Halloween
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

In addition to monitoring social media for memes and trends, designers can get an idea of what consumers are looking for by shadowing their online searches. Costumeish.com monitors what people are typing into their search bar to see if they’re missing out on a potential hit. “People search for odd things sometimes,” Weeks says. “People want to be a cactus, a palm tree, they’re looking for a priest and a boy costume. People can be weird.”

9. THEY HAVE WORKAROUNDS FOR BIG PROPERTIES.

Go out to a party this year and you’re almost guaranteed to run into the Queen of the North. But not every costume maker has the official license for Game of Thrones. What are other companies to do? Come up with a design that sparks recognition without sparking a lawsuit. “Our biggest seller right now is Sexy Northern Queen,” Quintana says. “It’s inspired by a TV show.” But she won’t say which one.

10. PEOPLE LOVE SHARKS.

Singer Katy Perry appears on stage with two dancing sharks
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

From the clunky Ben Cooper plastic costume from 1975’s Jaws to today, people can’t seem to get enough of shark-themed outfits. “We do a lot of sharks,” Berman says. “Maybe it’s because of Shark Week in the summertime, but sharks always tend to trend. People just like the idea of sharks.”

11. DEAD CELEBRITIES MEAN SALES.

A portrait of Hugh Hefner hangs in the Playboy Mansion
Hector Mata/Getty Images

It may be morbid, but it’s a reality: The high-profile passing of celebrities, especially close to Halloween, can trigger a surge in sales. “Before Robin Williams died, I couldn’t sell a Mork costume for a dollar,” Weeks says. “After he died, I couldn’t not sell it for less than $100.” This year, designers expect Hugh Hefner to fuel costume ideas—unless something else pops up suddenly to grab their attention. “Last year, when Prince died, that was almost trumped by [presidential debate audience member] Ken Bone,” Berman says. “He became almost more popular than Prince.”

12. THEY PROFIT FROM PEOPLE SHOPPING AT THE LAST MINUTE.

A man shops for Halloween costumes in a retail store
Frederic J. Brown/Getty Images

Ever wonder why food and other novelty costumes tend to outsell traditional garb like pirates and witches? Because costume shopping for adults is usually done frantically and they don’t have time to compare 25 different Redbeards. “People tend to do it at the very last minute, so we want something that pops out at them,” Berman says. “Like, ‘Oh, I want to be a crab.’”

Weeks agrees that procrastination is profitable. “We make a lot of money on shipping,” he says. “Some people get party invites on the 25th and so they’re paying for next-day air.”

13. IT’S NOT ACTUALLY A SEASONAL BUSINESS.

A woman shops for costumes in a retail store
Rhona Wise/Getty Images

Everyone we spoke to agreed that the most surprising thing about the Halloween business is that it’s not really seasonal on their end. Costumes are designed year-round, and planning can take between 12 and 18 months. “It’s 365 days a year,” Quintana says. “We’ll start thinking about next Halloween in December.” Weeks says he'll begin planning in May 2018—for Halloween 2019.

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This Just In
Target Expands Its Clothing Options to Fit Kids With Special Needs
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For kids with disabilities and their parents, shopping for clothing isn’t always as easy as picking out cute outfits. Comfort and adaptability often take precedence over style, but with new inclusive clothing options, Target wants to make it so families don’t have to choose one over the other.

As PopSugar reports, the adaptive apparel is part of Target’s existing Cat & Jack clothing line. The collection already includes items made without uncomfortable tags and seams for kids prone to sensory overload. The latest additions to the lineup will be geared toward wearers whose disabilities affect them physically.

Among the 40 new pieces are leggings, hoodies, t-shirts, bodysuits, and winter jackets. To make them easier to wear, Target added features like diaper openings for bigger children, zip-off sleeves, and hidden snap and zip seams near the back, front, and sides. With more ways to put the clothes on and take them off, the hope is that kids and parents will have a less stressful time getting ready in the morning than they would with conventionally tailored apparel.

The new clothing will retail for $5 to $40 when it debuts exclusively online on October 22. You can get a sneak peek at some of the items below.

Adaptive jacket from Target.
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Adaptive apparel from Target.

Adaptive apparel from Target.

Adaptive apparel from Target.

[h/t PopSugar]

All images courtesy of Target.

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