Traveling the highways of America as an Oscar Mayer Hotdogger and serving as a mobile brand ambassador from behind the wheel of a 27-foot-long, 11-foot-tall Wienermobile can be loads of fun—but the application process and life on the road is no bologna.
In addition to craving road travel and possessing a hearty appetite for adventure, applicants are required to have a college degree—preferably in marketing, journalism, or public relations—with a minimum cumulative 3.0 GPA. They must also have a favorable driving record in order to fill one of the twelve coveted spots that open up each year.
Oscar Mayer—owned by Kraft Heinz, the third largest food and beverage company in North America—sees thousands of applications roll in annually. But only the top dogs will cut the mustard and rise to the ranks of official Hotdogger, with the opportunity to get behind the wheel of one of six Wienermobiles.
For those relishing such a role, the recruitment process often begins with an in-person information session on their college campus.
Learning to ketchup
That’s how it began for former University of Wisconsin-Madison roommates Luke Pitzo and Mitchell McMahon. Pitzo was set on snagging a spot. “I was sitting around the house and decided to tag along and see what all the fuss was about,” McMahon confesses. “My confidence was in Luke, but I figured I could add some spice, too.”
At the info session, the roommates learned what it would take to be a Hotdogger and met with members of the Kraft Heinz team. Both applied for the full-time, entry-level position that would keep them on the road for a year, living out of a suitcase in hotels and short-term housing after graduation in May 2019.
They both scored a first-round phone interview which lead to a second phone interview. As the next step, they were invited out to the Kraft Heinz headquarters in Glenview, Illinois along with other applicants to take part in four rounds of interviews and an on-camera test.
Both Pitzo and McMahon were offered the job, and both accepted.
Soon after, they attended Hot Dog High, a two-week training program for all Hotdoggers held in Madison, Wisconsin to learn the history of Oscar Mayer and their products, be trained in special events planning, and develop critical media training skills to be used on the road.
The Hotdoggers-in-training also practice hands-on driving drills behind the wheel of the Wienermobile. This is no easy feat, considering there are no side or rear view mirrors, forcing drivers to rely on an exterior back-up camera and their partner to help direct the vehicle.
Upon graduating from Hot Dog High, Hotdoggers receive the keys to the Wienermobile.
McMahon, now known as “Meat Man Mitch,” was assigned to work with Carly Koemptgen, who christened herself “Carly Jean, Hot Dog Queen.” A St. Paul, Minnesota native, Koemptgen first learned about the job through her father. He forwarded her an article he’d found online, telling Koemptgen she’d be perfect for the job. Kraft Heinz apparently agreed when they received her application—accompanied by a map Koemptgen had designed of the country, featuring images of herself dressed as a hot dog in every state.
McMahon and Koemptgen are assigned to the North East Region from June through December. Like all Hotdoggers, they are tasked with touring their territory distributing coupons, visiting grocery stores and supermarkets, making special appearances, handing out Wienerwhistles (toy whistles in the shape of a Wienermobile), and working to secure media attention and garner press for the Oscar Mayer brand. In December, they’ll take a short break and then be reassigned routes and partners for the remaining six months.
“We are like a married couple that’s just been thrown together,” Koemptgen laughs, referring to her new work relationship with McMahon, where the pair went from being virtual strangers to being together around the clock. “We balance each other out. I’m more of the spontaneous type and Mitch is the rational one, he’s the kind of person who sits back and contemplates situations, so we make a great team.”
There is no typical day on the road, according to McMahon. “Every day is a completely different encounter,” he says. The duo typically works on a 10-day rotation. The first day, Monday, they drive to a new market, or region of the country. Then on Tuesday and Wednesday, they have a break to explore the new area. Then, for a week—from Thursday to Wednesday—they work events at stores like Kroger and Walmart. “We’ve got fun props for a photo booth experience, and hand out coupons and Wienerwhistles and take lots of photos,” McMahon says.
“It’s the summer of ‘Yes’—yes to experiences and yes to hot dog toppings,” Koempton chimes in, adding, “Sometimes we have a sampling truck that follows us so people can try new toppings with their hot dogs. People ask us all the time if we have hot dogs onboard, but we don’t have them unless the sampling truck is with us.”
Weiners and losers
For all intents and purposes, the Wienermobile serves as a public relations firm on wheels. It’s the Hotdogger’s job to book public appearances, interviews, and photo opportunities, as well as to build brand awareness and goodwill in the community. Judging from the public’s reaction, it’s working.
“People go nuts when they catch a glimpse of the Wienermobile. It just makes people really happy and you can’t help but get excited. There’s even a sound system with 23 versions of the Oscar Mayer jingle, ranging from rap to bossa nova,” says Robin Gelfenbien. She secured a spot as a Hotdogger in 1993, for 16 months, after submitting a cassette tape of herself singing parody songs she had written. She called it “Rockin’ Robin’s Hot Dog Holiday Favorites.”
Today, Gelfenbien works as a full-time storyteller, comedian, and podcast host who often shares stories of her time in the Wienermobile. She wrote and starred in My Salvation Has a First Name: A Wienermobile Journey—an autobiographical one-woman show, chronicling her life on the road—and is currently working on her first book, Wieners and Losers, based on her personal experience over those 16 months.
“Having been bullied throughout college by a group of guys, my self-esteem was shattered and I didn’t take advantage of all the campus opportunities available to me due to fear. Becoming a Hotdogger gave me so much hope and allowed me to regain everything I’d missed out on in college,” she says. “It truly gave me something to live for. It was my salvation.”
“This was before the internet, cell phone, and GPS, so we would literally reach out to the media through faxes we’d send from Kinko’s. We’d call people up from local payphones and use paper maps to find our way around,” laughs Gelfenbien. It’s a far cry from today’s Hotdoggers, who are able to plug their location into a program called Cision and locate local media.
“I can’t even imagine what it must have been like then,” says McMahon, who is also armed with a car phone, cell phone, email, Wi-Fi connection, and GPS. “We are pretty much Magellan over here.”
“Hotdoggers are all family,” reflects Gelfenbien. “We have a group on Facebook, we meet up on the road. It’s like a brother- or sisterhood. In the grand scheme of things, there aren’t too many of us, so we stick together.”
While Hotdoggers may prefer different toppings and possess a variety of different skills, they all have one thing in common: They are one of only 400 people to hold the coveted role of Hotdogger over the past 31 years. That’s a title to relish.