The fast feeder is placing full-page ads in national and local
newspapers to fend off charges made in a class action suit that
Taco Bell misleads consumers when it says its restaurants serve
"seasoned ground beef" or "seasoned beef" and is actually serving
"taco meat filling," while the remainder consists mainly of
"extenders" and other non-meat substances.
Bell print ad
"Our number one priority is to inform and reassure our customers
and employees," said David Ovens, Taco Bell's chief marketing
officer in an email statement to Ad Age. "So we are defending the
reputation of the brand in the same way you'd defend your own
reputation if someone made false accusations about you. We are
telling our customers the truth using only the facts about our
The lawsuit asks that Taco Bell, which is owned by Yum Brands,
properly advertise and label food items, and to launch a corrective
advertising campaign to educate the public about the true content
of its food products.
Taco Bell is taking out full-page ads in national dailies
including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and USA Today, as
well as in local newspapers including Boston Globe, Chicago
Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register, San Diego
Tribune, and San Francisco Chronicle. The print ads, as well as a
Hispanic campaign, were created by Interpublic Group of Cos.'
DraftFCB, Taco Bell's
agency of record.
The print ad copy reads: "Thank you for suing us. Here's the
truth about seasoned beef. The claims made against Taco Bell and
our seasoned beef are absolutely false. The only reason we add
anything to our beef is to give the meat flavor and quality. So
here are the REAL percentages. 88% Beef and 12% Secret Recipe." The
ad goes on to elaborate on that 12%, saying that the rest consists
of water (about 3%), spices (about 4%), and "oats, caramelized
sugar, yeast, citric acid, and other ingredients that contribute to
the flavor, moisture, consistency, and quality of our seasoned beef
As part of an online effort, Taco Bell posted a YouTube video
featuring Taco Bell President Greg Creed talking about the brand's
seasoned-beef recipe. The video was to appear on YouTube, the
company's website, tacobell.com, and Facebook. The videos will be
supported with ads on search engines and other social-media
Taco Bell's response is a much more public and aggressive one
than fast feeders typically take. McDonald's, for instance, in
recent months was sued in California in a play to get the company
to stop using toys to market directly to children. The company
issued a statement and has not aggressively addressed the
Of course, taking such a public course of action has inherent
risks. "It is risky because it requires that the facts be air-tight
and the company be totally confident in them," said Gene Grabowski,
senior VP-chair of the crisis and litigation practice at Levick
Strategic Communications. "This approach would indicate that the
company is extremely confident in the facts and knows it will be
vindicated. It's much more typical to issue a statement that is one
or two sentences and address the crisis in a court of law. It's
done like that because it's low-risk and doesn't force you to
publicly try your case. Taco Bell is publicly trying its case."
Mr. Grabowski added that although the move is risky, there's
potential for payoff in positive publicity, potentially renewed
brand perception and increased sales.
Taco Bell's move has also given the company a little more
control over the situation. Sara Jones, managing director and
director of the crisis practice at Mercury Public Affairs, said
that although Taco Bell waited a few days to respond to the
lawsuit, the fast feeder has since gained the upper hand. "Taco
Bell is getting its footing and is putting the plaintiff's
attorneys on the defensive. The plaintiff's attorneys were
aggressive before, and now they're being questioned on the results
of their beef testing and hiding behind a legalese response."
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court Central
District of California Southern Division by Montgomery, Ala.-based
law firm Beasley Allen along with the San Diego law firm Blood
Hurst & O' Reardon. The plaintiff is California resident Amanda
Obney, who filed on behalf of "herself, all others similarly
situated and the general public."
Beasley Allen is standing by its lawsuit. W. Daniel "Dee" Miles,
a shareholder at Beasley Allen Law Firm, said in an email statement
to Ad Age: "The facts alleged in the filed lawsuit against Taco
Bell are absolutely correct. We will try this lawsuit in the
Federal Court in California, not the press. We have no further
comment on Taco Bell's latest advertisements or statements as we
will do our work on this case in the trial court."
Prior to today's ad campaign, Taco Bell's brand perception
dropped since the Jan. 19 filing, according to YouGov's BrandIndex
survey results. Taco Bell's Index score for adults 18 and older who
have eaten in a fast-food restaurant at least once in the past
three months has fallen fast, from 25.2 to 11.7, in only one week.
The drop puts Taco Bell below the entire fast-food sector's average
score, which currently stands at 12.2.
YouGov BrandIndex's scores range from 100 to -100 and are
compiled by subtracting negative feedback from positive.
Taco Bell had also been in the news in the last week due to its
advertising on controversial MTV show "Skins,"
which features explicit content among teenagers. After the
premiere, the fast feeder said it would no longer buy ads during
the show, citing a lack of fit for the brand.
Maureen covers agencies as well as all things mobile, including the carriers, handsets and advertising, for Ad Age out of San Francisco. She previously wrote about the marketing of the fast food industry for Ad Age while also covering the agency world. Before entering reporting, she was Ad Age's research editor, helping lead research and analysis for the publication's reports including the Agency Report, Leading National Advertisers and 100 Leading Media Companies.