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Taco Bell Drive-Thru Diet presents: Lessons in Credibility
January 4, 2010, 1:22 pm
Filed under: Advertising & Branding | Tags: , ,

Drive-Thru Diet

Taco Bell’s latest effort, a Subway-aping bid for health-food status entitled the “Drive-Thru Diet,” is an exercise in total nonsense and insults the intelligence of the even the most modestly commonsensical. Siezing upon the stray story of one Jared-eat-alike Christine, who claims she lost 54 pounds eating Taco Bell (read: lost 54 pounds eating 1250 calories a day and exercising regularly for 2 years), Taco Bell seems eager to insidiously dupe the logically-lacking and detail-oblivious into believing nonstop Taco Bell-chomping specifically and not a calorically-diminished diet (regardless of content) more generally contributed to Christine’s astounding progress. 

While technically true and laden with small-print disclaimers, Taco Bell’s claims smack of intellectual dishonesty and strain credulity as mightily as their lard-laced concoctions a moderately-cinched belt. Taco Bell is not a health food, and per their own admission on the campaign site, neither is it a low-calorie food. Taco Bell is cheap, it’s fast, it’s a guilty pleasure. It’s a food of convenience, of desperation—not of strategy—and I think that’s why this is such a ludicrous campaign and absurd strategic move on the company’s part. I’m not sure if they misunderstand their brand proposition, or if they’re stretching too much in an attempt to be something new, but either way, they’re at best underestimating and at worst attempting to trick their audience, and that is quite a dangerous branding rule to break. 

For Subway it sort of made more sense to claim health benefits, and it seemed plausible that their subs would make a more sensible and sustainable fats food choice (the typo stays) for someone with a currently-abysmal diet—the bread is fresh-ish, the vegetables look real, the calorie count can’t be that bad, especially when compared to your average fried McDonald’s fare. But Taco Bell? Come on. I love it, I’m not going to lie. But at least I have some awareness that I am about to eat a burrito-shaped object some sad stooge in back whittled from a solid block of saturated fat. 

I say, know what you are and play that game well (a la 4th meal). It’s not that a brand can never change, or that it should let others determine its identity for it, but it’s pretty obvious why something this far-fetched rings false. It seems deceptive even though it’s technically not; brands should not build campaigns on technicalities.

The blow to credibility the campaign deals makes Taco Bell look foolish and desperate, and it can take a while to undo the damage of undermined trust. (“Who are they kidding?” is never a response to look forward to in audiences.) So next time, friends, think it through—who are you, who do you want to be, and how will you demonstrate this authentically, respectfully, and intelligently?

UPDATE: Incidentally, it seems AdFreak did a post on this very campaign today, aptly titled “Are they kidding me with the Taco Bell diet?” (proves my point, right?) in which they make the keen observation that Taco Bell’s concurrently-running (and more brand-aware, as I had mentioned earlier) 4th Meal campaign is totally at odds with the Drive-Thru Diet campaign, making the latter even more dubious. Good point, AdFreak. So there, Taco Bell.


2 Comments so far
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Wait, you mean I can’t have a drive-through, fast and easy meal AND diet? Or, more specifically, I can’t do this at a place that also advertises it’s “huge” portion sizes and declares it’s the place to go for a 4th meal?? NOOOOO!!!!! 😉

Comment by Kathleen

I appreciate your taking a moment out of the time you normally spend gorging yourself on Taco Bell to write that comment, K 🙂

Comment by Arthi Vellore

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