Getting a Big Sales Boost With a Small Ad Budget

Fast-Food Chain Taco Maker Moves the Needle 21% With Radio, Mobile Campaign

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- You don't have to have a nine-figure ad budget to boost sales and get your brand noticed -- but it could require some ingenuity. The Taco Maker, a Puerto Rico-based fast-food chain, saw 21% same-store sales increases in central Florida following a combination radio and mobile-marketing promotion in which it offered free burritos.

The Taco Maker

The Taco Maker's agency, BxP Marketing, created a character it called Juan Maker, a gruff, mouthy guy with a thick accent, to make radio appearances and chat with DJs about freebies. The appearances were recorded live and then crafted into a series of 10 60-second spots that ran in central Florida for six weeks and offered a free one-pound Maker burrito to consumers who sent in a text as instructed by the commercial. The Taco Maker received nearly 5,000 texts and gave away nearly 2,500 burritos, a response rate of about 50%. The promotion sent same-store sales up 21% in the region, the chain said. Taco Maker CEO Carlos Budet said the character connected so well that consumers called the radio station asking to speak to Juan Maker.

The chain specializes in mostly meat burritos, devoid of rice and easy on the beans, cheese, sour cream and veggies. The simple menu also includes tacos, taco salad and combo meals with rice and chips. There are a couple of surprising sides, such as tater tots and loaded baked potatoes.

'Educating the people'
Mr. Budet said after opening eight stores in areas with high concentrations of Latin Americans, he was surprised that those communities did not recognize the brand and flock those stores. "That didn't happen," he said. "So we had to get into the position of educating the people in Florida." Thus was born Juan Maker, who has since moved on to promote the chain's value menu.

"We were trying to find out how to be very viral, very grass-roots and target a more connected consumer," said Gary Bentz, chief creative officer at BxP Marketing. He said the agency had tried direct mail, but the response rate was too low and the expense too high. The agency declined to specify the price of the promotion, but said it cost less than $50,000.

For that amount, the agency was able to track consumer response by station, time of day and even DJ. The company focused its ad dollars where they were doing the most good in real time.

The Taco Maker has about 80 locations in the U.S. but more than 200 worldwide. Puerto Rico-based FransGlobal Corp. bought the chain in 2006, when it had about 40 U.S. locations and about 110 restaurants worldwide. Growth is difficult in this economic environment, Mr. Budet said, but the chain has been gaining traction in recent months, with contracts to open about 650 more U.S. locations in the next five years.

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