Let’s play Jeopardy! The answer is: This Forest City, Iowa, company loans recreational vehicles to television shows, such as Jeopardy!, Wheel of Fortune and CBS’ The Early Show.
The question: What is Winnebago?
The Des Moines Register reported that Winnebago Industries Inc. provides a motorhome known as “The Brain Bus” to Jeopardy! staff members who prowl America looking for contestants. The Iowa company does the same for Wheel of Fortune, with an RV nicknamed “The Wheelmobile.”
The Early Show staff used two Winnebagos to drive across the nation to award surprise summer vacations to viewers.
“We’re always looking for ways to promote the product and the corporation,” said Sheila Davis, Winnebago’s manager of public and investor relations. Davis, with approval from top management, decides what deals Winnebago will participate in.
Often, no money changes hands as the TV shows get free use of Winnebago RVs. Winnebago gets free publicity by having its products associated with programs seen by millions of people.
Drew McLellan, CEO of McLellan Marketing Group, Des Moines, said the promotions can be more effective than a regular television commercial. By providing a product used by a TV show, the manufacturer is getting airtime on the show and an implied endorsement of the product from the show itself, McLellan said.
“You get to borrow the esteem of the show that you’re with,” McLellan said.
Davis said even a brief mention on a show that reaches millions of viewers has a positive effect. “To buy advertising in those formats would be extremely expensive,” she said.
Lisa Dee, executive director of marketing and promotions for Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! said the “Wheelmobile” and “Brain Bus” arrangements with Winnebago work out well for the programs.
“Both shows are just constantly on the road” looking for contestants, Dee said.
The Winnebago name is also visible on the brightly decorated RVs as they visit spots across the nation. The Wheel of Fortune RV features the show’s name in huge letters, along with bigger than life pictures of stars Pat Sajak and Vanna White.
Winnebago public relations specialist Kelli Harms works with TV show crews daily, lining up appointments for routine maintenance or drivers to move an RV from one city to another.
Winnebago first decided to venture into TV game-show territory in the mid-1990s, approaching producers to work out agreements for Winnebago vehicles to be a prize on Wheel of Fortune and The Price is Right.
The company began loaning vehicles for Wheel and Jeopardy! searches in 1998. The Early Show approached Winnebago about this summer’s deal.
Winnebago vehicles make other TV appearances, too. A Winnebago, for example, is used for Biff Henderson’s America, an occasional comedy/travel bit on The Late Show with David Letterman.
When it comes to the movies, Winnebago officials get to review scripts beforehand, signing confidentiality agreements promising not to talk about the story lines, said Davis.
“We need to know how the motorhome is portrayed in the movie to decide whether we want to participate or not,” she said.
Will Ferrell’s NASCAR comedy, Talladega Nights, made the cut; Robin Williams’ comedy RV did not, because the movie RV was portrayed as constantly breaking down.