The July Fourth weekend is a three-day explosion of apple pie, fireworks, and backyard barbecues. Carnivores relish this weekend. There is arguably no better weekend of the year to grill meat. But the top dog on July Fourth? The hot dog.
The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council estimated Americans would eat 150 million hot dogs this July Fourth. Lay those dogs end to end and it would stretch from DC to LA more than five times. We love our hot dogs.
The epicenter of hot dogs on the Fourth is Nathan’s Famous in Coney Island, on the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues in Brooklyn, NY. Nathan’s has been hosting a hot dog eating contest there for 100 years, dating back to 1916. Crowds gather to watch 20 contestants, standing around a long table, dunking hot dogs and buns into cups of water or lemonade and eating them as fast as possible over the next ten minutes. Shards of buns fly out of their mouths, kids and adults alike squeal with delight and/or look away in horror, and a champion is awarded the famous Mustard Belt. An estimated 3,000 spectators sardine into the intersection on a hot July day.
This year, Joey Chestnut won the belt and set a record, eating 70 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes. He did so on ESPN, the TV home of the contest since 2003. ESPN renewed the rights recently, holding onto it through 2024! ESPN’s telecast last year reached 1.13M viewers and had a slew of digital buzz behind it.
Nathan’s does not delve too much in traditional :30 spots. Instead, the company uses their eating contest as a spectacularly powerful marketing platform. Nathan’s sells 425 million franks a year, a small percentage of the roughly 9 billion hot dogs Americans eat in a year. Nonetheless, the brand touts a mystique that established competitors such as Oscar Mayer do not have, thanks, in large part, to Nathan’s hosting the famous contest.
Last year, Adweek published some great stats about the power of this contest and its ability to invade our consciousness. Last Fourth of July, there were 29,300 tweets about hot dogs, 28,200 tweets related to Joey Chestnut, 19,800 tweets around Nathan’s Famous, and 9,660 tweets specifically mentioning the Nathan’s hot dog eating contest.
It is fun to look back at hot dog ads by other brands through the years. MeTV curated a great collection of them including this one (below), about July Fourth in 1978, where Coca-Cola recommended dumping potato salad atop your dog.
“Weeny Crackers” is our new favorite exclamation:
And let’s end with this great oldie from Chevy:
Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet. They go together in the good old USA. You may be agreeing with the sentiment without realizing those are words to a jingle from 1970s. Today after you watch this spot, it is a tune that will roll off your tongue.