Taco Bell Launches One of the Stupidest Ad Campaigns Ever

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Advertiser: Taco Bell
Product: Taco Bell
Agency: Agency: Foote Cone & Belding, San Francisco
Rating: 1.0

In 1838, Charles Darwin first postulated his understanding of natural selection: Successful species pass on their traits to subsequent generations, while unsuccessful species die out. The theory has come to be known as survival of the fittest, and the example most often cited is the English pepper moth.

Over the course of the industrial revolution, as soot from the urban factories darkened surrounding forests, black moths -- camouflaged by their coloring -- survived. Lighter colored ones, easy targets for predators, disappeared.

Darwinian insight
Observation of such phenomena led to Darwin's insight.

All right, now then: In 1986, the late psychotic vagrant arithmetician Norman Bloom used celebrity interviewer Larry King's 53rd birthday to announce that the verse in Isaiah 53 -- "Unto whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?" -- would find its answer in the life of the hunch-shouldered broadcaster. Sure enough, five months later, King's favorite team, the Baltimore Orioles, began the 1987 season by losing 21 straight games. Bloom was born in '21, and the O's lost for the 53rd time in 1987 in their 87th game.

Furthermore, prior to regular season, there were five consecutive lost spring training games, for a total of 26 defeats in a row. If you assign numerical values to the Hebrew letters in the word Yahweh -- i.e., God -- and add them up, you get 26. Therefore, Bloom divined, the biblical prophesy was borne out and he, Bloom, was the Messiah.

Insight? No, coincidence. There is a difference between statistical correlation and actual correlation.

Taco Bell
This brings us to Taco Bell. (Where else?)

Having observed a striking crossover between the demographic profile of the Taco Bell heavy user and the young, male tech professional, Foote Cone & Belding, San Francisco, contrived to bathe the latest desperate attempt to improve Taco Bell's flagging fortunes in techy language and culture. Four new spots use IT jargon and central-casts GenNext computer dweebs to introduce the restaged Taco Bell chicken quesadilla.

One of the ads is quite clever. Another has one charming moment. But overall, strategically and executionally, this is one of the stupidest campaigns you'll ever see.

The spot in heaviest rotation ostensibly takes place in a conference room at There sits founder Jeff Bezos surrounded by young "employees" in a meeting about what's hot enough to promote on Amazon.

"PDAs. Handhelds. I've seen these," Bezos says, in a goofy I'm-gonna-make-it-in-vaudeville delivery. "What do you have that's new?"

"Well," one of his minions proposes, "this just came out."

"Interesting," Bezos says.

Employee 1: "That's the new Taco Bell Chicken Quesadilla."

Employee 2: "Three melted cheeses, marinated all-white chicken."

Employee 3: "They're calling this the hot new hand-held."

Bezos: "Can I get a demo?"

Employee 3: "Yeah, sure." She then takes a bite, and has what looks like an orgasm. Then comes the ad's one, delightful moment: Employee 2 casting his eyes downward at the profundity of the success, uttering, simply, "Wow."

Jeff Bezos?
Otherwise, though, three questions: 1) Jeff Bezos? 2) Hot hand-held? 3) Jeff Bezos???

It's hard to understand who imagined that the wizard behind the most successful failure in the history of dot-coms would lend borrowed interest to a fast-food campaign. It's hard to understand why Bezos played along, except that this agency did Amazon's magnificent Christmas campaigns. But then it got fired, didn't it? The real perplexity, though, is why anyone actually believed there is some potent synergy at work between tech culture and fake Mexican food.

The campaign is partially redeemed by one spot in which two techsters talk about lunch in technical slang. The copy and performances are wonderful. And the tagline makes a lot of sense: "Think Outside the Bun." But Taco Bell's audience will no more identify with this stuff than previous generations of fast-food eaters responded to cartoonish stereotypes, whether skateboarders, flower children or grungy, plaid-shirted slackers.

Doomed to perish
FCB thinks it has found an insight. Instead, it has stumbled onto a coincidence. Everyone was hoping "Think Outside the Bun" would be the chain's savior. Unfortunately, it's just another white moth in a dark forest, doomed to perish.