This bell has got some big clout. Slapped with a class action lawsuit for false advertising over their “Real Beef” claims, Taco Bell mounted a huge media offensive earlier this year. End result? No settlement required. And one huge PR opportunity leveraged. From the onset, they attacked this lawsuit like I would attack a combo number four: head on and face first, and they weren’t stopping until the wheels fell off. How did they pull this off?
Their approach was definitely brazen and in my opinion, bang on. As soon as the court papers were filed, Taco Bell countered hard and publicly, online and in print. The “Thanks for suing us” campaign was direct, to the point and didn’t leave any room for failing gracefully. This was a must-win situation and Taco Bell knew it.
Not surprisingly, most companies can’t conceive of playing in this arena. First of all, these situations typically tend to get distilled into the classic Evil Corporation vs People’s Hero scenario. Not this time. Taco Bell beat the plaintiffs to the punch and did the complete opposite. They proclaimed with full confidence on their website, newspaper, and YouTube that the allegations levied against them were completely false. They even incorporated a smart search strategy into the mix that gave true meaning to the term everyone talks about but so rarely achieves: brand authenticity. In their YouTube video they proclaim their beef is 88% real beef and 12% “secret recipe”. Immediately following this statement, Taco Bell president Greg Creed (whose presence is a nice touch) proceeds to reveal the “Secret Recipe”. This really is taking the whole transparency thing a bit far, but it did add credibility to the entire statement, showing the world they had nothing to hide. Even Reddit got in on the action and pushed their ads into viral territory. All this was followed up by a Free Taco for all their fans on Facebook.
Even after the suit was withdrawn, Taco Bell dropped the hammer and drove the final nail home with this ad. A bit much? Maybe, but Taco Bell was making a point. They had nothing to lose and everything to gain from this. Through this suit they essentially were given a golden opportunity to publicly debunk a myth about their food quality in a way no traditional advertising could. Before this suit most of us probably just ignored the “Real Beef” claim as tricky marketing. But now consumers have seen behind the curtain and it’s believable. They also seized the opportunity to reward their loyal Fans and gain new ones by offering free product through Facebook. For me the big lesson here is that transparency and authenticity by Brands is key to winning with consumers. And when you get the chance to play in the big show, you take it.