Monday, January 31, 2011

A Beefy Rebuttal

Taco Bell has begun firing back. In an effort to correct the critics weighing in on the "taco meat filling" controversy, the fast-food chain is fighting back with a new ad campaign intended to clear up any confusion. David Oven, Taco Bell's Chief Marketing Officer, said that reassuring customers and employees is a top priority for the brand and that "we are telling our customers the truth using only the facts about our food." That supposed truth is that the "seasoned beef" it advertises is really 88 percent beef and 12 percent "secret" concoction of extras. So don't you feel reassured now?

I'd caution Taco Bell that it is entering very dangerous territory. By taking its fight to the court of public opinion, it's taking a major risk. First of all, this move keeps the unflattering story relevant. The safer route is to shrug it off with a memo from the CEO and its lawyers and let the bad news fade away into a blur of trending topics long forgotten. Then the verdict will arrive some day in the future and be a tiny fraction of the initial story. Secondly, in our world without secrets, the branding puffery offers up a challenge to anyone willing to do a little digging to break a bigger and better story. After all, consider how long it took for someone to snap a picture of the ingredients on the package. This gives the muckraking types that much more motivation. Taco Bell should just address it and quickly move on; however, this is difficult to do, especially if the decision makers listen to their egos.

In my opinion, not doing so is already hurting Taco Bell. If the brand is confident enough to take its case to the news, couldn't they have expressed the "truth" in a better way than this? In order to really reassure the public, more factual details are necessary—don't just tell us, show us. But the current damage control campaign is really just more empty words that serve as the company's side of the story. More troubling is that I don't see the clarity in the message; in fact, the ads seem to intentionally obfuscate the contents of the beef. The retort begins by addressing the safety of meat filling, an issue that's not even in question. The ad claims that the beef "is 100 percent USDA inspected, just like the quality beef you would buy in a supermarket" and then addresses the actual issue in question: the meat formula. Eventually, a twisted message is pieced together from the corporate communicators: our beef is 100 percent inspected, all 88 percent of it.

Taco Bell should focus less on reassuring the public about what percentage is actually beef, because claiming that it's 88 percent beef is about as reassuring as watching the taco meat get injected with a caulk gun contraption. If we need reassurance of anything these days, it's that we'll keep getting a meal with the change in our pockets and avoid talking about what part of the taco used to go moo.


Monica said...

I wonder how the upcoming SuperBowl ads will play into this. I'm not 100% sure but I believe Taco Bell typically advertises a fair amount.

Alexander said...

Taco Bell doesn't appear to have any Super Bowl commercials this year.

The advertisers lineup can be found here:

But last year they advertised a $5 box meal and the year before it was some enchilada platter.

Even if they did, they would have to scrap everything and turn around a new idea very quickly. Don't know that they could.