Brand Focus: What Taco Bell is Teaching Us

Josh Chambers, Former Viget

Article Category: #Strategy

Posted on

You've seen the "Drive-Thru Diet" commercials from Taco Bell, right? It's a perfect example of what happens when a company loses its brand focus. What is it that people love about Taco Bell? Words like "late night," "delicious," and "guilty pleasure" come to mind. According to Zeta Buzz, the most common words surrounding Taco Bell in the online space were once "favorite," "delicious," and "love." (AdAge source). Then the Drive-Thru Diet happened.

A Lack of Brand Focus

A company that has brand focus knows what it's good at, and what it's not. Taco Bell has never been about healthy food or dieting, and by introducing the concept of "dieting" into this brand you're asking it to be something it isn't. As Jim Collins puts it in his book Good to Great, "Focusing solely on what you can potentially do better than any other organization is the only path to greatness."

"Dieting" is not the path to greatness for Taco Bell.

Furthermore, by putting the spotlight on health and dieting, Taco Bell is practically begging customers to dwell on, and comment on, the weakest part of their business (the part that destroys arteries). 

The Sleeping Giant Awakens

In the aftermath of this new initiative, the most popular words surrounding Taco Bell are now "fat," "joke," and "stop." (AdAge source).

The Taco Bell YouTube channel hosts the above video, and the results are telling.

  • Two star rating
  • Ratings have now been disabled
  • 127 comments and I can't find one comment on the video that isn't scathingly critical (haven't looked at every one though). It's really harsh:
Fast food companies are so evil. Shame on you Taco Bell!!
Wow, total bullshit
This is? THE BIGGEST JOKE ever-No wonder most Americans are walking around obese and riddled with disease. Seriously!?!?!

Did customers suddenly awake from their grease induced coma? Did they just realize Taco Bell is unhealthy? I don't think so. I'm pretty sure customers knew that all along. The problem here is that customers thought Taco Bell knew that too.

It Feels Dishonest

Perhaps the new Taco Bell Fresco menu isn't terribly unhealthy; but this just looks dishonest. Everyone is jumping on the health band wagon, the ad is littered with fine print, and the before and after photos look like a bad banner ad. Regardless of it's validity, it just doesn't feel honest. Customers now feel like Taco Bell is trying to pull the ol' switcheroo.

It Discredits Advertising

I hesitate to criticize another agency's work, and I hesitate even more to call it "harmful to advertising", but I can't get around it. This type of advertising is what gives the industry a bad rap. Ridiculous claims about weight loss, partial truths, fine print, and capitalizing on a bandwagon movement. Not to mention the fact that it looks an awful lot like the Jared campaign from Subway.

The Lesson

Big companies keep learning the hard way. When you lose brand focus, when you try to be something you're not, your customers will notice. Back in the day, the extent of their "noticing" took the form of complaining to a few friends. Now, however, they have a giant digital megaphone to hold companies accountable.

Taco Bell could have avoided this whole thing by recognizing what they're good at and sticking with it.

If nothing else, they could have just made a campaign that had a more realistic vibe: "Yeah, you might want a slightly healthier version of fake Mexican food, so here it is." Maybe customers would have been ok with that. But, when you claim to be a company who condones dieting and you insinuate customers could lose 50lbs by eating food that has made a name for itself by being anything but healthy, you've lost your brand focus, and you've lost customers.

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