Taco Bell “Drive-Thru Diet”: Strategically Smart, Ethically Dubious

While running for the border, time to take a detour:

And the 3-minute version:

The tone of these is really strange — in the 3-minute version, at first Taco Bell seems to be going for a Popeil-esque infomercial parody, but then they bring out Christine the now-hot woman and Ruth Carey the registered dietician (who clearly made a conscious choice to sell her professional soul) and things take a turn for the health-oriented. We end again on an upbeat and optimistic note that leaves our parody question totally unresolved.

Looking at this from the b-school marketing perspective, Taco Bell is clearly trying to horn in on Subway’s fast/healthy territory, which the other fast-food dudes have thus far been unable to do. T Bell can bring the dynamic competitive variable of being hella cheap — nobody sparks the image of cheap food better than the Bell, and that’s an added edge over Subway if both are competing in the space of healthy, quick food. This is also a smart move to expand their gender demographic — when’s the last time you saw a woman in a Taco Bell commercial? Their target market is the classic “dude”: 15-34, with an appreciation for cheap, filling, tasty food in a pinch, healthiness being a more secondary consideration. In a word, me.

But from an ethical advertising perspective, it gets my cringe on. If you come at this like that sad girl and her mom in “Supersize Me” who thought they could only follow Jared’s weight-loss example by buying Subway every day, this grabs you right by the sizable haunches and tells you, “Now you can finally afford to follow the fast-food-only diet and get a hot body like this chick.” Note the huge caveat that Taco Bell themselves provided — results aren’t typical, particularly when you consider that Christine reduced her caloric intake to 1,250 calories per day. That means your entire daily intake is a mere 3.67 fresco chicken burritos. I have a feeling I’m in the minority for grasping the meaning of that 1,250 figure and not merely thinking, “If I eat more fresco burritos, I’ll be totally hot,” but maybe I’m not giving the food-buying public enough credit. (Or am I?)

In the end, I have to appreciate this campaign on its evil-marketing-genius merits. I stopped at Taco Bell on my drive Monday back to campus, and the fresco chicken burrito was indeed quite tasty, so I can’t fault TB there. Despite that, I’ll continue to cheer those well-intentioned squares at Center for Science in the Public Interest in their Sisyphean fight for healthy food, because the sooner we stop providing material for People of Wal-Mart, the better.

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