Rawstory is reporting that the hot dog falling from the sky, held aloft by a surgical mask parachute, that loomed behind Gov. Doug Ducey during a press conference on July 30, 2020, almost wasn’t even a hot dog. According to public records, it could have been a beer bottle, a guitar, or a dumbbell.
The governor, on the other hand, chose the hot dog.
— Brooke (@broooookieeeeee) July 31, 2020
Tim Riester, CEO of Riester Advertising, was one of the creators of the 15-second PSA encouraging Arizonans to wear masks to limit the spread of COVID-19, which featured a hot dog floating in the sky with the caption “Save live sports. Wear a mask.”
Riester created the ad, but collaborated with nine other advertising agencies in the state to develop ideas for free, while the state government would cover the cost of increasing the visibility of the selected advertisements.
Ducey stated at the time that the state would spend $3 million on advertising. The governor’s office refused to answer questions about how much money was spent.
The ad was created in response to the state’s first significant increase in COVID-19 cases, which occurred six weeks after Ducey allowed local governments to mandate mask use. Its goal was to persuade Arizona residents to wear masks as a common-sense precaution against the spread of the new coronavirus.
Parachuting hotdog* pic.twitter.com/KDrh2XoG32
— Rusty Shackleford 🇺🇲 (@RsTshackleford) November 20, 2020
Riester stated that it was a “special moment” in his three-decade career to work with the other agencies for the greater good.
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“It was a time where all of our businesses were really hurt by the pandemic, but by sharing the responsibility, we were able to do the right thing for the state,” he said in a phone interview.
The $3 million parachuting hotdog parachute 🪂 🌭 https://t.co/37PgzeedwU
— ThatEthanGuy 🏴☠️⚔️⚖️ (@ethanwatkins) September 10, 2021
According to public records, the Riester agency pitched six ideas, two of which were chosen: the parachuting hot dog and one that argued that wearing a mask was unmanly.
“Several recently published studies … show that many men are hesitant to wear masks or take other measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 because they feel these activities make them look weak,” the pitch behind the “masks are masculine” idea read. “This campaign quickly and directly proves the opposite.”
A coordinated campaign from some of Arizona’s most notable athletes, a campaign simply titled “#MAZK” (deliberately misspelling “mask” to incorporate “AZ”), a simple campaign titled “masks work,” that focuses on Arizonans wearing masks for the purpose of getting back to work, and one other idea aimed at feeling “empathy toward job creators.”
Ducey’s office repeatedly refused to answer questions about the parachuting hot dog advertisement or the process that led to its selection. When 177 pages of records were handed over, it instead provided a written statement. The requested information was also missing from the records, with no explanation provided.
“The COVID-19 advertising campaign was intended to promote public health and allow Arizona to remain open for business during the pandemic,” CJ Karamargin, Ducey’s communications director, wrote. “There are so many examples of community members stepping up to volunteer their services. That includes the time and effort volunteered from local advertising agencies to communicate public health strategies to Arizonans across the state.”
The parachuting hot dog advertisement was immediately criticized and mocked, and many people were perplexed as to why a hot dog was being used to promote mask use in the first place. According to records, Ducey’s top staffers blamed the backlash on politics rather than the idea itself, which they believed was potentially harmful.
It was revealed that Ducey’s top aides preferred the hot dog option over other proposals, including the Riester agency’s initial suggestions that the parachuting item be a beer bottle to “save your favorite bar,” a guitar to “save live music,” or a dumb bell to “save your local gym.”
Riester’s chief creative officer Tom Ortega explained the purpose of the PSA to Arizona Republic columnist Bill Goodykoontz. After, Ducey’s then-chief of staff Daniel Scarpinato wrote to the Riester agency, “Your team did a great job. We are in a very toxic political environment.”
Riester, the CEO, replied minutes later, “The political environment is nuts. You are doing the right thing and it will save lives and our economy. Keep pushing!!”
In another email, he wrote, “Let’s kick this virus’ ass and get our population and economy back in shape!”
Riester told the Mirror that wearing a mask became highly politicized from “the federal leader at the time,” and credits that for the negative reaction, not because it was a hot dog using a mask as a parachute. (He was referencing Donald Trump, but would not name him directly.)
“I think that created some negativity around any message that could be published with masks, and that’s unfortunate that we see that still today where a lot of people — because of mixed messaging — didn’t get a vaccine or they didn’t wear a mask, and now a lot of those are the people who are in the ICU,” Riester said.
June and July of 2020 were the highest points for all Covid metrics in the state at the time. Arizona was the worst place in the world for Covid — a feat it would repeat six months later — and deaths were continuing to rise rapidly.
Ducey had spent months fighting calls for a statewide ban on wearing masks in public. At weekly COVID-19 media briefings, he paid lip service to CDC recommendations that people wear masks, but refused to be seen wearing one or to allow cities and counties to require masks — an action they couldn’t take because Ducey had barred them from doing so. However, after weeks of public pressure, he relented and released the cities’ grip, allowing them to impose local mask mandates.
More than 19,000 Arizona residents have died as a result of the virus, and more than 1 million have tested positive so far.
Alec Esteban Thomson, Ducey’s former director of strategic initiatives and campaigns, oversaw the state’s “Mask Up Arizona” campaign and was in charge of tracking down the advertisements. Thomson, Scarpinato, and Daniel Ruiz (Ducey’s current chief of staff who was the state’s COO at the time), according to several email exchanges, chose the hot dog. Riester claimed he was never given a specific reason why Ducey’s office preferred the hot dog over his other pitches.
Remember when @dougducey thought a hotdog parachuting on a face mask was ample prevention for COVID in our state and then 17K+ Arizonans died of the virus? Yeah- I think about that a lot.
— Riki Cleveland (@missriki) April 8, 2021
Thomson wrote to Riester during the planning stages that he thought the ads “have real potential for impact.”
Riester also stated that he had not heard from Ducey or his office about running another ad to entice people to wear masks.
The governor appears to be still irritated by the parachute hot dog ad and the mockery it elicited. When a reporter brought up the ad during a recent media event, Ducey yelled at the press pool.