Advertiser: Taco Bell
Agecny: TBWA Chiat/Day, Venice, Calif.
Ad Review rating: Three stars
Before we get to the charming Taco Bell campaign, you should know that we here at the AdReview staff have been harboring a secret.
We've been reluctant to share it for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that we command a position of awesome responsibility and, as we have seen, loose lips sink internships. But circumstances dictate that we can no longer remain silent. So here goes:
Over the years, nearly everybody on the staff has been confronted by a hostile reader waving our 100%-advertising-experience-free c.v. like some sort of smoking gun and demanding to know what gives us the right to stand in judgment of other peoples' work. The staff is trained to defuse such volatile situations by courteously asking the pest to "Get lost, loser." But the time has come to reveal the source of our moral authority: infallibility.
Anyway, near infallibility. We have reviewed about 850 campaigns, and we have been clearly wrong 11 times. In other words, we're batting .987.
Sure, it's a team effort, but we are so damn good at this, gentle readers, that sometimes we even frighten ourselves. The latest evidence of our astonishing perspicacity comes courtesy of TBWA Chiat/Day, Venice, Calif.
(No. No. No. This isn't about our original review of the recently departed Nissan "Mr. K" campaign, which, we noted "howls with blunders," including the emphasis on Japanese heritage in a market that largely resents Japan. OK, so we predicted a backlash, and so we couldn't help but notice Nissan's new outdoor campaign, featuring a red, white and blue Altima and the headline "Guess where it's built?" But our purpose here is not to gloat about Nissan. Our purpose here is to gloat about Taco Bell.)
Last summer, the chain broke its "Want some?" campaign with four commercials, three of which were set in an inflatable pink room. The room was meant, in its stylized way, to suggest the teen-age stomach, where various weirdness ensued via assorted visual metaphors for the pangs of hunger. And we said these ads were OK.
But what we thought was best was the fourth spot, featuring a chihuahua padding down the street in apparent search of a girl chihuahua, but actually looking for Mexican fast-food. "Yo quiero Taco Bell," the dog said.
That means "I want some Taco Bell," and it is cute because dogs can't really talk.
We suggested this gimmick would be a better centerpiece for the campaign, given its "limitless possibilities for brandcentric absurdity."
Well, lo and behold, six months later, it is. The new pool of Taco Bell commercials is all about the talking dog, who is still preternaturally smart. In one spot, on his way in for a bite of nachos bel grande, he stops to answer a "Jeopardy" question ("What is a logarithm?"). As we said, limitless possibilities.
Another spot is a funny homage to Volkswagen's wonderful "Da da da" spot, substituting two Gen X guys with no life in an old BMW for the original pair in a new Golf. This got our attention, too. Because the same 1997 column not only compared Taco Bell's strategy to VW's, it referred to the "Da da da" commercial.
Don't get us wrong. We're not unhappy that TBWA is seeing things our way. It's really about time. Because this staff doesn't have any smoking guns. Just weapons of mass instruction.
Copyright March 1998, Crain Communications Inc.