After years of diluting both marketing resources and brand meaning in futile efforts to broaden its appeal, Taco Bell has taken a cue from the phenomenal success of Volkswagen and decided to put its money where the right mouths are.
A gigantic new campaign from TBWA Chiat/Day aims directly at ravenous young people-especially teen-age boys-with commercials that position Taco Bell as the remedy for hunger. Having failed at low price, and having failed at low fat, Taco Bell's new strategy seems to be low threshold of cuisine, i.e., when you are 17, and you are so famished you're prepared to consume organic matter indiscriminately, an ex- truded beef slurry served up in an injection-molded tortilla-like product is just the thing to hit the spot.
"There's something inside you that's hungry for Taco Bell" is the message (or, at least, one of the them). And, because this is vivid, amusing advertising, it just might work.
Three of the first four spots are set in a pink, inflated-fabric room-like the "Moonbounce" attractions you see at local carnivals-which, as the visual punch line eventually reveals, is a stylized representation of the human stomach.
One is set up like a mosh pit, with lots of garishly clothed young people thrashing and colliding to techno-rock. Another shows a refrigerator, and a fat guy who loses his composure when he realizes the fridge is empty. A third features a bunch of costumed midget wrestlers engaged in a battle royale.
In every case, the commotion-or emptiness-is a metaphor for the pangs of hunger. And in each case there is an abrupt cut from the pink room to some young male, suffering. The tagline is "Want some?" If Taco Bell is calculating correctly, the answer is yes.
It could, however, be no.
The biggest problem in the opening round of this campaign is its lack of product focus. Chiat does a very good job of capturing the concept of raging adolescent hunger but offers no suggestion of why Taco Bell is particularly the solution. Is it more delicious? More satisfying? More spicy? More exotic? More burrito for the buck? We are offered not a clue.
Rationale, no doubt, to follow. Meantime, at least the chain is back in the game, speaking to the right people, wittily, and in their idiom.
Taco Bell really has become VW. In the empty-fridge spot, the cut is to two idle Gen X roommates, who have dozed off in their ratty apartment, only to be awakened by their empty stomachs. They could be the same idle Gen X roommates who all summer have tooled around in their Golf, looking for abandoned chairs, or just something to do.
These fellas aren't necessarily our best-and-brightests, which maybe explains the backup theme line-as if the stomach-rumbling metaphor were somehow too elusive for this audience. But then there's actually a third line, too. In a spot called "Chihuahua," we are taken south of the border, where a mousy little Mexican dog sniffs after what we presume to be a mousy little bitch, but which turns out to be a Taco Bell entree. The dog then mouths, "Yo quiero Taco Bell?"
This would probably be the best tag of all, paying a sort of eye-rolling homage to the chain's dubious Mexican roots. It could be a teen-age mantra, with limitless possibilities for brandcentric absurdity. Still, "Want some?" is fine, in a "Got milk?" sort of way.
And at least it's not "Fahrvergnugen."