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oscar mayer hot dog graphic

Oscar Mayer Opens the Hot Dog Controversy Floodgates

Steve Heisler

oscar mayer hot dog graphic

Is the dress blue and black or white and gold? Is the voice saying “Laurel” or “Yanny?” Now Oscar Mayer wants to know: Is a hot dog a sandwich or no?

Goal

Oscar Mayer’s branding and awareness work tends to skew sillier, with strong viral potential. In the past, the company created a bacon-scented alarm clock and Bacoin, a cryptocurrency backed by the brand’s bacon. Oscar Mayer once even drove its signature Wienermobile to Alaska to deliver hot dogs.

For a recent social media campaign, which earned the meat mavens a Shorty Award, they tackled an issue that has been weighing heavily on the minds of many: Is a hot dog a sandwich? They declared that it was, set up a hotline and demanded their Twitter followers call in to convince them otherwise.

The jury is still largely out on this debate. Merriam-Webster defines a hot dog as a sandwich, while the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council feels the opposite. In 2018, food-focused website The Takeout spent five months surveying 34 pop culture figures on the topic, including actors, journalists and athletes. The results showed 55.9% answered “no” and 26.5% said “yes.”

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Oscar Mayer was paying close attention. “We’ve seen the debate pop up about [whether] a hot dog is a sandwich,” says Matt Riezman, associate director of marketing for Oscar Mayer. “It was something we knew you could get people excited about on a personal level, pretty much no matter where in the world they were. We decided that, [since] we knew that we were experts in hot dogs as one of the leading brands of hot dogs, we have some serious expertise in sandwiches.”

For a recent branding campaign, Oscar Mayer leaned heavily on the propensity for social media to ignite hyperbole and debate in order to drive engagement. The brand threw down the gauntlet: After declaring that a hot dog was a sandwich, Oscar Mayer gave followers 24 hours to reply.

“We thought we owed it to people to weigh in on this debate,” Riezman says. “It’s increasingly important to have a relationship with consumers; we wanted to build those relationships and establish our authority as a leader in meat.”

Action

“We knew a hotline has a high barrier to entry,” says Randi Schwieger, account director at mcgarrybowen in Chicago—Oscar Mayer’s agency of record. “People barely call their friends and family anymore … [but] we felt like there was an opportunity to get the most passionate to go above and beyond and thought that could be really fun. That proved very fruitful.”

Schwieger and Riezman wanted to ensure each impassioned message could be shared immediately to spark social media dialogue and ultimately drive more calls to the hotline. They created visual templates that could be populated with noteworthy messages as they came in, then pushed those images out on Oscar Mayer’s social channels. “This wasn’t all set it and forget it, pre-recorded or pre-created messaging,” Schwieger says. “We could take people’s opinions and push them back out to continue to fuel the debate.”

The team went live a few days before International Sandwich Day in early November 2018. Oscar Mayer gave no warning to its followers that the campaign was coming, only offering a single message that morning with the hashtag #ChangeOscarsMind and a note: “A hot dog is a sandwich! Try and change our mind 1-833-SNDWICH.”

oscar mayer hot dog is a sandwich hotline graphic

The language of the post was worded to intentionally kick off a heated debate. “‘Change my mind’ is obviously native behavior in social,” Schwieger says. “Inviting consumers to engage with us in that way felt like it was right for social. And we’re absolutely up for the task of trying to change your mind.”

The calls came quickly and reflected the fervor they expected. Many messages were minutes-long and some called repeatedly to continue their argument. One man quoted the Cartesian coordinate system, arguing that along the xyz plane, a sandwich is eaten on the x-axis but not the y- or z-axis, whereas a hot dog also exists along the z-axis. Another caller threatened to visit the company in person and make his case.

Other tenacious callers phoned corporate headquarters, which surprised other Kraft Heinz employees. “I was scolded by our consumer response team for not telling them [about the campaign],” Riezman says.

The phones closed after a tight 24 hours, and the moment had arrived to reach a verdict. “We wanted people to understand that this wasn’t going to drag on forever, that there will be a decision,” Schwieger says. “It created a little bit of urgency and an understanding that there [would] be some resolution pretty quickly.”

Results

First thing’s first: According to Oscar Mayer, a hot dog is, indeed, a sandwich.

“After 24 hours, we had to listen to all of the messages,” Schwieger says. “Ultimately we had a decision to make. We decided, as a group, that there was no argument powerful enough to change our minds.”

Their decree sparked more phone calls. The line received 1,638 voicemails within 48 hours, with 608 coming in during that first 24-hour window. Social media exploded with 4.6 million impressions and 628 mentions of the associated hashtag on Twitter. The campaign did well on traditional media sites as well, earning 427 million impressions and 258 earned placements. The campaign also won Oscar Mayer a Shorty Award in the “Polls and Surveys” category in “Food and Beverage.”

The brand continues to question sandwiches—or at least produce questionable ones of their own. In August, it introduced a hot dog-flavored ice cream sandwich containing candied hot dog bits, hot dog sweet cream ice cream and spicy Dijon mustard gelato. This aberration also proved quite popular on social media.

“One of the biggest effects we’ve seen is that people are increasingly interested in interacting with us as a brand and are almost expectant in certain situations—especially if those involve hot dogs or sandwiches,” Riezman says. “We’re seeing that [interacting with Oscar Mayer] almost feels like talking to a friend that you haven’t seen in a while, but they remember you.”

Steve Heisler is staff writer at the American Marketing Association. His work can be found in Rolling Stone, GQ, The A.V. Club and Chicago Sun-Times. He may be reached at sheisler@ama.org.