Taco Bell supports its beef in new ads

The chain’s employees, franchisees star in $3 million ad campaign

Taco Bell launched a $3 million ad campaign this week as it continues to attack claims made about its taco meat.

The “Talk” campaign features real Taco Bell executives, franchisees and employees touting that the chain’s seasoned-beef recipe contains 88 percent ground beef inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and 12 percent spices and seasonings. Viewers are invited to visit www.tacobell.com to see the ingredients that make up the chain’s spice recipe.

The integrated campaign includes TV and radio commercials, online and social-media support, Hispanic-media broadcasts, and an 88-cent Crunchwrap Supreme offer.

View one of the ads:

The ad campaign is the latest response by Taco Bell to a consumer lawsuit filed Jan. 18, alleging that that the chain’s taco filling contains fillers and extenders and was falsely advertised as beef. The chain disclosed its taco ingredients in full-page newspaper ads in January that carried the headline “Thank you for suing us.” Brand president Greg Creed also defended Taco Bell in an online video, and the chain executed a Facebook giveaway earlier this month, rewarding its online fans with a free crunchy taco.

The he did not disclose the number of redemptions, Poetsch said in an e-mail that the Facebook offer “was successful on two levels.”

“It further drove positive sentiment toward the brand among our most passionate customers,” he said. “It also successfully rewarded those fans with a free taco, driving them into our restaurants.”

The current offer, in which the 88-cent Crunchwrap Supreme is meant to reinforce that Taco Bell’s recipe contains 88 percent premium ground beef, will run through March 5. The Crunchwrap Supreme usually sells for around $2.39.

Restaurant marketing veteran Dan Dahlen said that, “under the circumstances,” Taco Bell’s commercials were “outstanding” in conveying the chain’s quality and convincing viewers that its beef was safe to eat. Dahlen, managing director of Restaurant Marketing Team in Columbus, Ohio, was director of national advertising for Wendy’s during the famous “Where’s the Beef” campaign of the early ’80s and most recently led the restaurant marketing practice for Nielsen IAG.

“The way it’s delivered, via real employees, is well done,” Dahlen said. “It’s believable, clear and succinct. It doesn’t have the humor they’re known for, but when you’re sued, you need the right tone of being serious. With this, they’re saying, ‘Let’s make our point … send a message to the plaintiff that the claim is erroneous and move on.’”

The commercials also were probably the quickest, most economical way to address the issue, by filming employees in a corporate office and not spending time and money on new creative, he added.

Dahlen said Taco Bell likely would accomplish three things with its transparent “Talk” ads: reassure its nearly 37 million weekly customers that the ingredients are acceptable, persuade doubters and lapsed users to try its products, and address the lawsuit’s claims to possibly effect a quicker resolution to the court battle.

Though Taco Bell’s commercials share elements of Domino’s Pizza’s groundbreaking “Pizza Turnaround” ads that drove same-store sales gains for Domino’s for all of 2010 — transparency, real employees and executives on camera — the Mexican brand’s spots are more a reaction than the basis for a whole new campaign, Dahlen said, and probably won’t be seen on the air after this week.

“It’s effective in that it’s immediate, head-on and just the facts,” Dahlen said. “It’s the nipping it in the bud approach versus waiting and hoping the lawsuit goes away, or developing some sort of end-around to the suit. Taco Bell laid out the facts and said, ‘This is what we’ve always served, and a lot of people like it.’”

Irvine, Calif.-based Taco Bell, a subsidiary of Yum! Brands Inc., has nearly 5,600 quick-service restaurants in the United States.

Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected]