When Taco Bell launched its “Thank You for Suing Us” campaign shortly after a lawsuit was filed claiming that there was very little meat in the company’s seasoned beef, some were left scratching their heads. But for the fast food brand, the marketing strategy worked well.
Taco Bell’s unorthodox approach to the lawsuit included a nationwide print campaign defending the quality of its beef in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, The Orange County Register, The San Diego Tribune, and The San Francisco Chronicle.
Coupled with the print advertisements was an aggressive online campaign via Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube identifying the company’s seasoned beef as 88 percent U.S. Department of Agriculture–inspected beef and 12 percent “secret recipe.”
Edwin Thompson, director of demand generation at the Pedowitz Group, finds Taco Bell’s initiative to be truly exceptional, considering the standard plot of most lawsuits.
“The lawsuit would have been filed, their law firm would have prepared some statement and issued it to the media, and the general public would have followed the storyline of the person making the claim,” he says. “They said, ‘All right well if you think that’s true, we don’t believe it, here is our side of the story,’ and they took over the conversation online. They own the conversation, and they have used Facebook brilliantly.”
Lisa Burris Arthur, the chief marketing officer at Aprimo, agrees: “Many brands mistakenly wait too long to insert their own narratives. Out of fear they can’t control everything, they choose inaction instead, and the void is filled by innuendo. Taco Bell didn’t make that mistake. They boldly inserted themselves into the conversation.”
At present, Taco Bell’s Web site has a clearly labeled “fact site” with pages titled “The Truth About Our Seasoned Beef” and “Taco Bell Ingredients.” Arthur suggests the company has been using effective search engine optimization techniques to draw consumers to the site first.
“If you go and google ‘Taco Bell’ right now, all you see is their information and their side of the story,” Thompson says.
Taco Bell opted for such a direct tactic in countering the lawsuit because the company’s “number one priority is to inform and reassure our customers and employees. So we chose to defend the reputation of our brand in the same way you’d defend your own reputation if someone made false accusations about you,” a company spokesperson says.
The online campaign was thought to be the key factor in the company’s ability to control its own story, with the print ads being more of an afterthought. Had this lawsuit surfaced 10 years ago, the company might not have had the same opportunity to seize its own narrative, Thompson points out.
Arthur calls social media “critical” to Taco Bell’s initiative, because the company had instant insight into customer conversations about the lawsuit. Taco Bell leveraged all of the relevant information available through social media into an effective and concise message.
“Ten years ago, Taco Bell would likely have been more reactive, relying on traditional media for interpretation and paid media to broadcast controlled messages, all of which may have come off as defensive,” Arthur says. “Social media strategies, which require more integrated approaches, enable brands to join conversations and manage them, instead of spraying the market with one-way messages. Brands that rely on deep, accurate information, which they use to strike authentic conversations, are the winners in CRM and marketing today.
“Yes, damage has been done,” Arthur admits. “But by joining the information-driven conversation early on, Taco Bell shows how brands can successfully manage PR crises—and opportunities—to a more positive end.”
Editorial Assistant Koa Beck can be reached at kbeck@destinationCRM.com.