I Wish I Were an Oscar Mayer Wiener

August 3rd, 2007

Jerry Ringlien died on Monday.  You probably don’t know his name, but you certainly know his jingles – “My bologna has a first name…” and “I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener…”  You’re also probably familiar with his other famous gift to American pop culture, the Wienermobile.

Ringlien, the chief marketer at Oscar Mayer, was responsible for building a national brand that led to national distribution and eventual  acquisition by Kraft Foods.  Check out this video about the work he did at Oscar Mayer, shot by his son and posted in the last six weeks.

In reading Ad Age’s obituary, the one thing that stood out most to me was that Ringlien was one of the first to use play-group research in 1974.  He utilized play to engage his focus group audience in a meaningful way.  Through play, the company was able to think freely and create wildly.  And it paid off.  “I wish I were an Oscar Meyer wiener” was recognized as one of Ad Age’s Top 10 Jingles of the Century.  It’s one of very few jingles that is still alive and meaningful today.

There’s really not much on the web about play-group research, which leads me to think that it’s not a widely-adopted strategy.  But it is something Dan Pink talks about in A Whole New Mind (a Braithwaite Book Club read) as a high-touch, high-concept aptitude in the Conceptual Age.  Pink views play as one of the key aptitudes on which professional success and personal fulfillment now depends.

So why hasn’t play caught on as a marketing tool?  We know it’s often successful – Jerry Ringlien taught us that.  But for some reason, we’re all still lagging behind this revolutionary marketer and his Wienermobile.  It’s not too late. Maybe we can all take one day a month or even a year to incorporate play into whatever we’re working on – and give our bologna a shot at a first name.  And maybe in the process, we will change not only a company, but American pop culture, too.

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