Open letter to David Ovens, Taco Bell chief marketing officer:

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

26 April 2011

A few thoughts on the Taco Bell response

Recently, a lawsuit that claimed the beef in your food wasn’t actually beef was dropped, a stupid suit you responded to with a series of TV spots. The “Talk” campaign featured Taco Bell employees saying that your recipe contains 88% beef and the rest is seasoning. It was a direct and public rebuttal to the suit with print ads also saying, “Thank you for suing us.”

As I said at the time, I thought the lawsuit would have no effect because those who go to Taco Bell aren’t worried too much about what’s in your tacos and burritos. What I didn’t plan on was a media blitz to combat it, thus raising the issue to a higher, much more public level.

“The brand position is not emotional and too product-driven.”

The campaign has backfired. Your CFO recently reported that sales are slumping and pundits are saying the campaign raised the issue when there wasn’t one. (I would have also refrained from posting videos and news releases asking the plaintiffs, “Would it kill you to say you’re sorry?”)

I’m not here to criticize you or Taco Bell, because I understand that even companies react emotionally, just as consumers do.

However, these kinds of issues – even those during a crisis – can be overcome if you re-vitalize the Taco Bell brand. “Think Outside the Bun” has run its course, even though it had its positives. It was a directive to the consumer and it was positioned directly against the hamburger competition (McDonalds, Wendy’s, Burger King, etc.).

But it wasn’t emotional, and certainly not emotional enough to continually steal market share from the competition and spark a brand loyalty that make customers stand up for the brand and frequent your restaurants.

As a marketing expert, who has been successful your whole career, you understand there are problems. The brand position is not emotional and too product-driven. The look and feel of the brand does not connect with the position in a way that would make sense to target audiences who need to see themselves in the brand. You also understand that a strong, emotional brand overcomes most everything. (Think of how the “death grip” of the iPhone 4 became a non-issue. Apple’s brand is so strong and emotional that buyers didn’t care.)

There are sound, actionable tactics and strategies you can undertake to get Taco Bell on top. If you are interested in what will work, let me know.


Tom Dougherty
President and CEO of Stealing Share

See more posts in the following related categories: Fast Food advertising Fast Food branding QSR marketing Taco Bell


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