Commentary by Rance Crain


A Mystifying and Poorly Thought Out Campaign

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Are you as mystified as I am by Taco Bell's recent ads?

At a time when everyone is concerned about eating too much, Taco Bell is playing up the idea that its food makes people feel full. One spot shows a young guy who brags to his co-worker, "Guess

Rance Crain, editor in chief, 'Advertising Age'

who got full this weekend?" The other guy smiles broadly and says: "You dog!"

Hardy-har-har. That's really thinking outside the bun: Brag about how customers can load up on a $1.29 half-pound beef and potato burrito Big Bell Value Meal that fills their stomachs "without draining their wallets."

High price of gas
Taco Bell built this "fill 'er up" concept around the high price of gasoline. Over the Fourth of July holiday the company gave away thousands of gallons of gas across the country to celebrate the new Big Bell Value Meal. The menu, designed to keep customers' "stomachs and wallets full," features seven "filling" items, just like lucky consumers who get their car tanks filled courtesy of Taco Bell.

Did the thesis for the TV campaign came from a one-day gasoline promotion that is never mentioned in the TV spots -- or is it vice versa? On July 1 Taco Bell-attired gas station attendants in 10 markets had customers spin a wheel featuring the seven Big Bell Value menu items and their respective prices. Depending on the space they

The Taco Bell Value meal promo was connected, albeit obscurely, to a free gasoline offer.
landed on, customers paid between 99 cents and $1.29 for a tank of gas (maximum 15 gallons, regular grade only), got their windows washed and received a coupon for a free Big Bell Value meal.

"From restaurants to gas stations, everyone can appreciate the value of being full for $1.29 or less" proclaimed Greg Creed, Taco Bell's chief marketing officer.

A modicum of sense
When you possess all this background information, the Taco Bell campaign makes at least a modicum of sense. But I for one had no idea about the gasoline promo when I started seeing the spots. My total reaction to Taco Bell's stunning proposition was: Say what?

It's a legitimate question: Why would a marketer stake a claim that goes against heightened sensitivities to overeating just to be in synch with a one-day promotion?

Now they're stuck with the notion that Taco Bell products sit like a big fat lump in your stomach, making you feel heavy and lethargic. A full tank of gas doesn't relate to a full stomach, hard as Taco Bell may try to make it so. Full tank of gas: Get up and go. Full stomach: Lie down and sleep it off. And besides, heavy food often gives people "gas." Is that what Taco Bell wants to conjure up?

The damage has already been done. The Web site Dimensions Weight Board (a forum for those who prefer a large-figured mate) posted some comments on the Taco Bell ads by a guy calling himself Mr. Jigglesworth.

Good news for gainers
"The ads show people going around bragging ... 'I'm full,' calling up friends to share this info with. ... It's hilarious, but also great news for the gainers here as we now have a new place to go load up on calories for less money. And that's always good news, now if they would just come out with a nice thick shake ... ahhhhh!

"I guess if this turns out successful for Taco Bell, people will no longer be running to the Border, but waddling there instead."

Can it be that "I'm full" was created to justify a gasoline promo? Or was the gasoline promo thrown in to validate the ad campaign? Either way the results are disastrous.

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