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Alumnus Hits the Hot Dog Highway

Michele Norton, Hotdogger Whenever Michele Norton is at work, people stare at her. It's not because of her looks or her smile, but because she's driving the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, a 27-foot customized vehicle resembling a hot dog on a bun. Norton, a 2003 graduate of the Tippie College of Business, is thrilled with her first job out of school, driving one of six Oscar Mayer Wienermobiles around the country for the next year.

Hundreds apply for the position yearly, but this marketing alumna was one of only 12 recent college graduates chosen for the position. Drivers attend Hot Dog High, where they learn all about Oscar Mayer history and products, special events planning, and how to maneuver the vehicle in traffic. The Hotdoggers spend a year traveling throughout the country conducting media interviews and making promotional appearances, attending everything from the Super Bowl and the Kentucky Derby to parades and grocery store grand openings. Norton reports that the Wienermobile will make an appearance in the UI Homecoming Parade this fall.

More than 300 graduates have served as Hotdoggers since 1988. After gaining valuable public relations, marketing, and sales experience, Hotdoggers have gone on to very successful careers. Hotdogger alumni include television anchors and producers, PR account executives, and an entertainment director for the San Diego Padres, as well as sales representatives for Oscar Mayer and its parent company, Kraft Foods, Inc.

"They are our ambassadors and our grassroots connection with the local community. We encourage them to be creative in their approach so consumers have exciting and memorable experiences with the Wienermobile," says Russ Whitacre, manager of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile Department. Norton is currently cruising the Midwest in her Wienermobile (with the license plate of WEENR), but she will be sent to different regions of the country during her tenure. For 22-year-old Norton, this is an extraordinary experience. "I fell in love with this job, so it became my mission to become a Hotdogger," she states. "I just wanted to see the country, and this was a great opportunity. Many of my friends have had a hard time landing a job after graduation and I feel lucky that I've got such a great job," she explains. "I have learned so much about working with the public and serving as a company representative."

Norton worked with staff from the UI Career Center to prepare for her job search. "In addition to helping me develop my resume, the staff showed me how to take advantage of e-recruiting opportunities. That experience helped me improve my interviewing skills and become much more confident in what I could offer a company," she states. "In this job, it's very important that you have that confidence in yourself. It's necessary to be outgoing and very personable."

The Wienermobile is a marketing success story. It made its first appearance in 1936 and was an integral part of the company's public relations campaign for years. The vehicle was phased out in the 1970s, but enjoyed a revival in the late 1980s when it was recognized for being a part of American pop culture. In 1986, Oscar Mayer celebrated the Wienermobile's 50th anniversary with a nostalgia tour that took the vehicle across the country. UI Marketing alumnus Jeffrey Cook, BBA87, along with a partner, was at one time responsible for the vehicle and drove it to appearances. Since the vehicle tended to break down, it was loaded onto a flatbed for the trip from town to town and then driven off the flatbed for each appearance. The nostalgia tour was so successful that Oscar Mayer ordered six new Wienermobiles and launched the official Hotdogger program in 1988.


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