America has plenty of kitschy icons. But most of them—be it Graceland or a nickel-priced Coca-Cola machine—do not travel from place to place. This delicious section of the Venn diagram belongs to the Wienermobile, a giant hot-dog shaped vehicle that has been traversing the country’s byways since the Great Depression.
Tragically, it appears this icon has been asked to hang up its bun, at least in name.
Oscar Mayer, the brand that launched the legendary mobile tubesteak in 1936, has changed the vehicle’s name to the Frankmobile. In a press release, parent company Kraft Heinz explained that the change is meant to pay homage “to the brand’s 100% beef franks,” as the meat-maker rolls out a new recipe with a “more flavorful” taste.
And those hot dog-shaped whistles that Wienermobile reps used to hand out to hordes of happy children all over this great land? Well, that’s over too. Say goodbye to Wiener Whistles and hello to Frank Whistles.
If you need a moment, take it. We’ll wait.
There is some chatter that this tasteless rebrand could be a temporary ploy, that Oscar Mayer is essentially trolling America with plans to reinstate the name once our attention has been suitably piqued. This would be in line with other marketing stunts from recent years (see: IHOP’s “name change” to the International House of Burgers). And Oscar Mayer loves a headline-grabbing gimmick, whether it’s controversially declaring that a hot dog is a sandwich or introducing a hot-dog flavored ice pop.
All we can say? We certainly hope this is the casing.
It’s foolishness to mess with a concept that has been beloved by consumers for nearly a century. Yes, there can be sufficient motivation to do this, like the need to retire an image and name that were initially based on a racial stereotype. But to highlight a nuance of meatiness in a product that is generally consumed with a very willful ignorance about what type of meat might actually be involved? To steal a reliable sliver of nostalgia in an era plagued by untruthiness and destabilization at every step?
Perhaps you are thinking, as we did, that one reason for the change is that the word wiener is a euphemism for a ding-dong. If there are puritanical motivations lurking behind the “tasty new recipe” story, they are misplaced. (A) This has always been a central part of the appeal. Just ask the giggling kids. (B) Basically every name for a hot dog (including frank!) is a euphemism for a ding-dong.
Saying the word wiener is delightfully fun, the linguistic equivalent of passing a note to your bestie behind the teacher’s back. Saying the word frank feels more like telling some old guy he has honors on the second hole. The playful, youthful sound of wiener goes much better with the playful, youthful look of the vehicle itself. The original name also has a rhythmic appeal the new name does not.
If one wants to get technical—and you know we do—Wienermobile has four syllables, with two stressed ones sandwiching two unstressed ones (a trochee followed by an iamb). To replicate this lyrical quality the new name would need to be something like Frank-a-mobile. Instead of flowing, Frankmobile requires the speaker to pause. Frowning is, technically, optional.
The original modifier, being so much more distinctive, lends itself better to brand extension. Do you want to take a ride on a Wienercycle? Of course you do. What about a Frankcycle? Um, no thanks.
It of course helps that Wiener is not a common first name for a man. Oscar Mayer may have arrived at this moniker because frank is short for frankfurter, but that doesn’t make it sound any less like your friend’s dad. This is reinforced by the company’s added “Franks for Franks” ploy of handing out free hot dogs to anyone with an iteration of that name.
In summation, we don’t like it. Also other people don’t like it. We hope this is all a gag. The tone of the press release, which champions ideas that “encourage people from takings (sic) things too seriously,” suggests this is a real possibility.
And if it isn’t, there remains one crucial bit of solace for us: People will probably keep calling it the Wienermobile anyway. They’ll just be doing it with a beefier tone.