Taco Bell tries new ad strategy

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As it transitions to a new ad agency, Taco Bell will focus on a series of one-shot commercials aimed at pushing products rather than a corporate image campaign.

The first ad, a takeoff on the independent film "Being John Malkovich," was shot last week in Los Angeles. It's not known which product the spot promotes, but the ad was shot as if the viewer is inside the head of the person eating the Taco Bell food.

As expected, there's no sign of the Chihuahua.

The non-campaign is being produced by FCB Worldwide, which was named to handle the account, at least on an interim basis, after the fast-feeder parted ways with TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif.


FCB's San Francisco office will lead the way on the account with creative help from other California offices -- primarily Costa Mesa and Newport Beach.

"It's a way to keep people fresh," said Geoff Thompson, chairman of FCB, San Francisco, and worldwide creative director.

Mr. Thompson oversaw last week's shoot and will personally supervise creative executions. Tricon Global Restaurants Chairman David Novak is also said to be closely involved with the ads and even approved storyboards for the first spot, said an executive close to the situation.

"I can't imagine the chairman of the company approving storyboards," the executive said. "Plus, with a marketer taking over the company presidency, you have to question where that leaves Kip Knight," Taco Bell's chief marketing officer.


Introducing individual ads without a campaign architecture is a risky proposition, said one observer. "The advantage of a campaign is that it really gives the consumer a clue that what they're about to see is coming from a specific brand," said the executive, who added that fast-food ads typically run in four-week flights. "Trying to make a one-off recognizable that immediately says Taco Bell and identifies the product and its unique value, and communicates that in a broad way in four weeks, is a real challenge."

While there have been ads based on popular movies, the use of an independent film with limited distribution as the inspiration for a fast-food commercial raised some eyebrows.

"It's fine to use movies as a foundation for an ad if it's part of popular culture, but `Being John Malkovich' isn't part of popular culture," said the executive.

One thing that isn't changing is Taco Bell's commitment to late-night as the best place to find its target consumer. Last week it posted the first finalist photos in its "Late Night Photo Contest" on the chain's Web site (tacobell.com). The premise is to encourage consumers to show what they do late at night, according to a spokeswoman.

"Everyone loves to see their picture and see their name in lights," she said. "We use the Internet heavily in our marketing so it was a natural fit." That online promotion runs through September.

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