Spokesman Will Bortz said this is one of the year's largest marketing activities for the chain, but also a "different approach for Taco Bell."
Bands plus brand
"First, it's about the bands, and second, it's about the brand, but through a filter of what's going to help the bands stay on the radio longer," he said.
The reward for Taco Bell comes when Gen-Y fans see the brand giving a hand to acts they care about. The chain is also taking the opportunity to promote its late-night menu, reasoning that touring bands are hungry after a show.
"I think if people see it and think 'I like this band, they really need a break,' if this company is helping them get that break, [then] it's really powerful brand invitation that people respond to," Mr. Bortz said.
And Taco Bell is not just getting the bands, said Carol Phillips, president of Brand Amplitude, but all of their fans. "So for a relatively modest investment, they can get top of mind around a passion," she said. "Sounds smart to me."
Hard to pin down
Darren Tristano, exec VP, Technomic, said indie rock may sound niche, but "it's a pretty good cut" at millennials. "The younger generation is looking for music that's less mainstream, and they're not the easiest group to get to commercially," he said.
The first phase of Feed the Beat, which began last week, involves recruiting and selecting 100 bands for $500 late-night coupons and placement on FeedTheBeat.com. Each will post MP3s online, and consumers will begin voting on their favorite acts in October. Mr. Bortz said details of the "integrated marketing campaign" will be available in a few weeks.
Next spring, three bands will be chosen by online vote to record singles and to take part in a full-blown marketing campaign. That's when broadcast is expected to start, likely featuring the winning acts. However, Mr. Bortz said the three bands will have a say in how they are marketed -- and even what efforts are undertaken on their behalf.
But sauce packets are definitely on the promotional agenda. Taco Bell has offered "words of wisdom" on the back of the packets for five years, and will now add the feedthebeat.com URL to them. The chain reports that the packets reach about 208 million people each month.
Taco Bell worked with Interpublic Group of Cos.' DraftFCB, Irvine, Calif., to develop the promotion. T3 is handling the digital work on a contract basis. Mr. Bortz said that because previous years have been more about handing out coupons, it's hard to set expectations for what this version can do for sales.
Denny's joins bandwagon
Taco Bell isn't the only chain to jump on the indie-rock bandwagon. Denny's recently partnered with indie acts such as Taking Back Sunday and the Eagles of Death Metal, as well as Dr Pepper, to introduce its new late-night menu. Meanwhile, Taco Bell has worked with acts such as Girl Talk, Meriwether and Daphne Loves Derby.
If you're not wise to the indie scene, Ad Age editor Charles Moran, who authors the Songs for Soap blog, said Denny's is working with more-established, harder-rock acts, many of which already have deals with major labels. Taco Bell's bands have generally been more college-radio friendly.
Either way, late-night promotions seem pretty spot-on. Ms. Phillips, who became fascinated with millennials while teaching at Notre Dame University, said it's particularly savvy because members of that generation have "round-the-clock opportunities we didn't dream of at their age."
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Charles Moran contributed to this article.