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Why Taco Bell Is Using Spanish in English-Language TV Ads

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Lionel Richie's famed 1984 ballad is the centerpiece of Taco Bell's current TV ad, but it's sung as "Hola."

"It's surprising that even 20-year-olds know the song," said Taco Bell CMO Brian Niccol. "They might not know Lionel Richie, but they'll recognize the tune."

Though it seems like an odd song for Taco Bell, especially in Spanish, the ad is introducing its new Cool Ranch Doritos Locos taco, which will be available March 7, and is part of Taco Bell's largest marketing campaign to date. Using what Mr. Niccol called an iconic song translated into Spanish is the latest iteration of the chain's larger "Live Mas" campaign, which is meant to convey Taco Bell's food "not just as fuel, but food as an experience," he said.

Said Mr. Niccol: "This is one of those [songs] you get without having to understand Spanish. It adds another level of context to the brand around the experience we're providing. It's blending cultures. We're a Mexican-inspired brand and we continue to push the boundaries of what that means."

The spot, created by Interpublic's Deutsch, is the third of its kind for the chain. Taco Bell for its 60-second Super Bowl spot earlier this month used Fun.'s "We Are Young" and translated it into Spanish. Taco Bell also aired another spot, which is still running, during the pre-game for its Cantina steak burrito that featured Notorious B.I.G.'s 1995 hit "Big Poppa," which, for Taco Bell, was "Grande papi." That spot was created by Deutsch sibling DraftFCB. "These are songs that are iconic," said Mr. Niccol. "Even if they aren't familiar, the feedback we're getting is the tune connects with people. We're purposeful with music we're using."

Though Taco Bell has been using "Live Mas" for a year now, Mr. Niccol said Taco Bell has taken some insights learned from the launch of the Doritos Locos taco last year and applied it to the new launch. "The biggest learning is that this is a product that people are truly passionate about and want to have a dialogue about."

He said Taco Bell plans to have more outlets online for fans to have a dialogue, as well as more ways for them to participate in events with the brand. At this year's SXSW, for instance, Taco Bell will be working with a documentary filmmaker and Twitter -- as well as the bands Passion Pit and Wild Cat Wild Cat, which are part of Taco Bell's long-running "Feed the Beat" program, which provides nascent bands with $500 worth of Taco Bell food -- to produce a "consumer-generated documentary," which will be comprised of video and photos created by fans. "The idea is to get people closer to the music and experience it," said Mr. Niccol.

For the Cool Ranch taco launch, Taco Bell has also executed what it calls "speakeasies" in New York, Dallas and Los Angeles, in which the chain identified fans and "social-media influencers" and invited them to sample the product early by giving them a "secret pass code." Once fans given the pass code unlocked it, they were then prompted to spread the word via social media so that others could try the product as well. "We've learned a lot on how we can engage them sooner rather than later," said Mr. Niccol.

In 2012, Taco Bell spent more than $102 million on U.S. measured media for the Doritos Locos taco -- more than one-third of the chain's measured-media total for the year.

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