Say what you will about the quality of Taco Bell's menu, the fast food giant has consistently been stellar at one thing: Crafting messages that are memorable and right on the money with their target population and with contemporary trends. Among their successes are creating a cultural icon in the "Yo quiero Taco Bell" chihuahua and correctly identifying in 2006 that FIFA soccer would become an influential trend. They specialize in cheap food, late night drive-through access and having people think Outside of the Bun while they Run for the Border and unapologetically eat their Fourth Meal.
Now Taco Bell is pushing a concoction of snark, media buys and social media to manage the PR crisis prompted by a lawsuit that alleges that what the restaurant chain calls "beef filling" is only 35% beef. The Los Angeles Times described the Taco Bell response that can be read in ads or viewed as an address from their CEO on YouTube as both humorous and serious in tone:
Fighting back against a lawsuit that alleges the company’s beef isn’t very meaty, the Irvine-based Mexican fast food chain has launched a massive marketing campaign today –- including snarky full-page newspaper ads that declare, “Thank you for suing us.”
The fast-food chain’s ads in Friday’s editions of the Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Times and other papers is the chain's effort to set the record straight, according to company officials.
“Plain ground beef tastes boring,” the ad states. “The only reason we add anything to our beef is to give the meat flavor and quality. Otherwise we’d end up with nothing more than the bland flavor of ground beef, and that doesn’t make for great-tasting tacos.”
The ad directs readers to the Taco Bell Facebook page, which is full of thumbs-up for National Corn Chip day, news that The Taco Party Pack is back, and includes a post on January 28 that says: Lawsuits aren't funny, but here's a link that makes me LOL! ;). They link to a Colbert Report parody of the Taco Bell filler meat story.
Which is all pretty brilliant, really, and an example of how social media is changing PR. Taco Bell is talking to their core demographic, not to detractors. They manage to reframe the takeaway as though their awesome customers are being bullied by annoying lawyers, but don't worry, corporate will p0wn those losers after we have a lot of laughs both about ourselves and at their expense -- which is a message that could only truly fly online where a company has already established consumer relationships and platforms.
Social media brings a new snarky and familiar tone to the game. Listen to their video and you hear the insider messaging when the "secret ingredients" are described and the chummy way that customers are referenced at the end. The brand skillfully changes the question from "what in hell is that crap you are eating at Taco Bell" to "what is wrong with these idiots who file ridiculous lawsuits?"
The key messages:
- our customers are cool and we are friends
- lawyers and litigious people are asshats who eat bland, gross food
- our beef is for real
- of course there's other stuff in our recipes, that's what makes it taste good, duh
Thumbs up! says their Facebook fans.
The headline "Thank you for suing us" is so sarcastic, so middle school, so "Thank You For Not Smoking" that it is bound to annoy plenty who will maintain that fast food is the new tobacco.
But Taco Bell isn't having it. Taco Bell knows that regardless of what your mother thinks about the nutritional value of their offerings, they are the friend who has the cash to post bond for you when you are unfairly busted for public nudity. The friend who bought the class notes for the lecture you both slept through after a night of epic, and I mean epic parties. The friend whose Camaro has a floorboard full of moldy burrito wrappers but who cares because they don't show in the Spring Break roadtrip photos you posted on Facebook.
Taco Bell says they are cool with everything. Even your weak, baseless lawsuit. Taco Bell says lawsuits are for trolls and h4t3rz. Taco Bell says: whatever.
Are you buying it? Either their product or their progressive management of the filler meat PR crisis?
Contributing Editor Deb Rox likes low ice in her drink, and grab some extra hot sauce. And napkins!
Photo Credit: Motohide Miwa.
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