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Taco Bell Trolls Itself in Naked Chicken Chalupa Advertising

By Published on .

Ted and Sara's Wild Ride for the Naked Chicken Chalupa
Ted and Sara's Wild Ride for the Naked Chicken Chalupa Credit: Taco Bell

Taco Bell is essentially launching two campaigns for one new item, the Naked Chicken Chalupa.

The national launch of the limited-time product, in which a taco shell has been replaced by a curved piece of fried chicken, comes after testing a naked chicken taco in Bakersfield, Calif., in 2015 and changing the name to a chalupa in a Kansas City, Mo., test last year.

Looking at the build-up to the Jan. 26 nationwide debut, clearly Taco Bell believes it has a winner on its hands. The product was officially announced Jan. 11 with a traditional press release and some social media posts, which quickly got thousands of views.

"We knew there was some sort of pent-up anticipation and excitement building and we just really wanted to let people know that it was coming," said Chief Marketing Officer Marisa Thalberg.

The limited-time product, only set to be in restaurants for about five weeks, is the latest example of the growing importance of fried chicken at various chains. McDonald's update of its Chicken McNuggets helped boost sales in 2016, Shake Shack has a hit with its Chick'n Shack launched nationally a year ago, and KFC, a Yum Brands sibling to Taco Bell, has been on a roll with its own product innovations. On Wednesday, KFC announced its latest limited-time flavor, Georgia Gold Honey Mustard BBQ Chicken.

"We're seeing in the marketplace sort of an unprecedented demand for fried chicken," Ms. Thalberg said. "We really felt like it was the right thing to do to infuse a little bit more chicken in our menu."

To begin the push for the Naked Chicken Chalupa, Taco Bell held tasting events over the past week at its Irvine, Calif., headquarters, at its Cantina-style restaurants in Austin and Chicago, and then held the biggest event, a two-day "speakeasy" pop-up in New York.

"One of the things I've certainly pushed for across our integrated marketing team is that we are idea-centric and that we think about all of the different ways we want to execute," Ms. Thalberg said of the various events.

Now, it's onto the more traditional fast feeder marketing, which includes two commercials from Deutsch LA. One is a more straightforward, brand-driven approach. In the "We've Never Been Ready" spot, based on the advertising Taco Bell did in Naked Chicken Chalupa test markets, a guy discusses the product and whether people are ready for a big change. He is seen during major changes in history people thought were crazy, including the introduction of the automobile and the internet, then brings the conversation back to Naked Chicken Chalupa.

To chicken chain fans, the historical idea might seem a little bit familiar. Chick-fil-A used fictionalized historical figures to promote chicken for breakfast in ads that broke in 2016, while KFC's recent Nashville Hot campaign had a mid-20th century vibe.

The other Naked Chicken Chalupa campaign is seemingly from The Council For Eating Fried Chicken The Same Way You Always Have. That storyline has a 1950s feel, including a TV commercial suggesting a Naked Chicken Chalupa is a wild departure from traditional fried chicken, essentially hawking the product by warning people to stay away from it.

There council storyline includes a mock hotline (1-844-DRUMSTK), website and other elements such as a pamphlet seemingly sent to reporters from the council, which actually uses the acronym T.C.F.E.F.C.T.S.W.Y.A.H.

"We are actually trolling ourselves in a very, very amusing way," Ms. Thalberg said.

As for the use of the word naked, Ms. Thalberg asserts it is really meant to underscore that Taco Bell shed the traditional exterior, not anything racy.

Both commercials are set to begin airing Jan. 29. At times, the regular Taco Bell and the council ad may run during the same show, but not all of the buys are in pods or back to back, Ms. Thalberg said.

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