Earlier this week, we discussed the food world’s most distressing mascots. While anthropomorphic ginger roots and ghoulish burger clowns might send chills down an adult’s spine, food mascots tend to resonate with a younger, more accepting audience. But what happens when a beloved food brand creates an icon entirely preoccupied with its own mortality? Good things, apparently—at least in the case of Wienerschnitzel, the world’s largest hot dog chain propelled to wiener stardom by The Delicious One, a terrified frankfurter with one hell of a fandom.
Otherwise known as the World’s Most Wanted Wiener, The Delicious One (TDO) originated in 1997, when Wienerschnitzel hired the creative agency Amusement Park to create an unmistakable mascot. The Delicious One was born as a Claymation character created and voiced by Luke Thomas (later of Detective Pikachu) and developed by London-based production company Loose Moose. A cheerful, somewhat naive fellow, TDO thinks that people want to be around him thanks to his sparkling wit and charming demeanor. In reality, people just want to eat him. That’s why TDO lives in fear, issuing bloodcurdling screams and running around waving his little hands, bun flapping behind him like a pair of coattails.
One thing is certain: The Delicious One is not for children. So why did Wienerschnitzel, an otherwise family-forward brand, take a chance on an anxiety-ridden hot dog mascot?
According to Wienerschnitzel’s chief marketing officer Doug Koegeboehn, who worked on the Amusement Park team back in 1997, the agency modeled the campaign after Animal, a claymated Peperami sausage stick who appeared in British advertising in the late ’90s. Known for his black combat boots and bad attitude, Animal was a John Bender type who frequently engaged in self-mutilating behavior in an attempt to get himself eaten.
But Koegeboehn’s team had one problem with the Peperami campaign, he tells me. “We thought, ‘Shouldn’t the food not want to be eaten?’ People should want to finish the food because it’s so delicious.” Enter The Delicious One, who’s narrowly escaped a bloody demise at the hands of a little girl having a tea party, a group of hungry joggers, and a human resources professional, just to name a few.
The macabre approach worked. Since the campaign launched in 1999, The Delicious One has reached icon status. Fans have gotten the mascot tattooed on their bodies, created fake Delicious One Twitter accounts, and called out public sightings. The character even has his very own Wiki fandom page. “TDO is a friendly, pleasant, loyal, caring chili dog with a good heart of gold,” writes the author of the Wienerschnitzel fandom Wiki.
TDO likes to sing and dance and enjoys making friends. He also likes to play dress up, watch television, and play video games. He sometimes likes to exercise in his spare time. TDO also likes to tell jokes. Despite his ups and downs, he tries his best to be more optimistic and hopeful. He can sometimes be a bit distrusting of many people due to most chasing and trying to eat him.
Since the launch, the mascot has taken a few different forms, including a 2D iteration voiced by Rick & Morty co-creator Justin Roiland.
But, Koegeboehn tells me, “people are really crazy about the hot dog costume.” He’s referring to The Delicious One’s in-person appearances at promotional events like the company’s annual Wiener Nationals, a dachshund race “where the wieners run wild.” The Delicious One gets mobbed like a Disney World cast member as fans flock to capture a selfie with the mascot’s expression of raw terror. “People lose their minds,” Koegeboehn says. He should know: he’s personally worn the costume to promote the brand at several concerts and festivals. “Everybody wants to jump in the mosh pit with the World’s Most Wanted Wiener. Everybody wants their photo taken with him. He’s like a friend of theirs, and they have the document the interaction.”
Yes, The Delicious One is funny. Yes, The Delicious One is weird. But why do fans go so bananas for a relatively obscure fast food mascot? Maybe it’s the animation in the TV spots, which feels very 2002. (It’s reminiscent of Dancing Spider-Man and the “I Will Survive” alien music video that I played on repeat in my junior high computer lab.) Maybe it’s the nostalgia factor that resonates with adults who grew up with the screaming wiener. Maybe it’s the campaign’s dark appeal that hinges entirely on The Delicious One’s desperation as he runs frantically from wiener-starved pursuers of all ages.
Ultimately, adult fast foodies may just gravitate toward a food mascot that feels, well, adult. Like Peperami’s Animal, The Delicious One relies on tongue-in-cheek references that cater to a decidedly grown-up audience. According to Koegeboehn, parents don’t seem particularly worried about the ads warping their children—he hasn’t personally witnessed any outrage, although he has run into “ladies doing inappropriate things” during photo ops. Adults like hot dogs, and adults like murderous themes in their television content—why not have both? This only leaves one question: is The Delicious One a hot dog... or a sandwich?