Super Bowl

Inside Taco Bell's Not-So-Secret Super Bowl Product Launch

Chain Taps Popular Regional Ads For 'Bigger Than' Campaign

By Published on .

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Surprising almost no one, Taco Bell's new product unveiled during Super Bowl 50 is the "quesalupa," a hybrid of a quesadilla and chalupa. It was perhaps one of the worst-kept secrets of the Super Bowl, with speculation of the product's release circling the internet for months.

But that was apparently all part of the joke, according to Marisa Thalberg, Taco Bell's newly appointed chief marketing officer. "The whole campaign is meant to be playful," she said. "It is the best kept/worst kept secret. We wanted you to feel in on the joke with us."

The tongue-in-cheek strategy was essentially to over-blow the hype with "redacted" press releases and online videos starring minor celebrities contemplating a green-screen brick that was meant to represent the mystery item. Taco Bell also opened pre-orders for the unknown product a week early. As of Thursday, Ms. Thalberg said the company had received "tens of thousands" of pre-orders.

All the while, it was understood that Taco Bell fans suspected the identity of the new product.

The theme of the campaign is hyperbole, Ms. Thalberg said. The idea is to descirbe the introduction of the quesalupa's debut as "bigger than" significant cultural phenomenons like man buns, Tinder, drones and even football.

"We are striking a tone so hyperbolic only the most literal people would think we mean it," Ms. Thalberg said. But she added that at least in some ways, she does hope viewers believe the quesalupa is significant. "It's completely ridiculous and sincere at the same time and I hope both come across," she said.

Aside from the national 30-second spot, Taco Bell is also running local spots in five markets -- Dallas; Fort Worth, Texas; Virginia Beach, Va.; Eugene, Ore.; and Cleveland, Ohio -- during the big game.

For those commercials, Taco Bell tapped local businesses like Mr. Appliance in Eugene, Ore., Mack Mack from The Auto Connection in Virginia, and the Texas Law Hawk Bryan Wilson, all have commercials that are well-known in their respective regions. Taco Bell used their familiar ads and then at the end cut to the quesalupa.

Advertising Age Player
Advertising Age Player
Advertising Age Player

"Every market has these small-town big shots; they are so bad they're good," Ms. Thalberg said.

It's also doing something similar on YouTube, partnering with influencers like Dancakes, a pancake artist. In the spot, Dancakes is creating a pancake that looks like a football, but when he flips it over it's a quesalupa.

Taco Bell will air new riffs on the "bigger than" concept with commercials during the season premiere of "The Walking Dead" on AMC and the Grammy Awards.

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